Oscars 2021

The Oscars eased us back into red carpet style with bare midriffs and low-key accessorising

If this years Academy Awards are anything to go by, easing back into glamorous dressing is going to be an individualistic process rather than a group effort, writes Hayley Spencer

Monday 26 April 2021 14:39
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hile the step and point red carpet photos from the 93rd annual Oscars may have us fooled that it was an awards ceremony just like those before it, it was an event like no other, for an equally unusual year in recent history.

The first major in-person awards ceremony since the pandemic took hold was held over two months later than its traditional February slot, with an unconventional format to match. The ceremony was held in Hollywood (though at Union Station in Los Angeles instead of the usual Dolby Theatre), but there were also hubs in London and Paris for attendees who were restricted by travel bans. Distancing rules necessitated that stars walk this year’s pink carpet minus the usual throngs of photographers and broadcasters. However, with restrictions beginning to loosen, at least on this side of the pond, the style was a sign of what might be to come for the return of party dressing.

As celebrity stylist and writer Andrew Gelwicks, who is behind the looks worn by Schitt’s Creek actress Catherine O’Hara this awards’ season, suggests, “The return to real-life events feels like a much-needed reunion of sorts”. After a year of uncertainty and living in tracksuits, he rightly points out that “the return of formal attire gives audiences the fashion fantasy that everyone wants to have”.

Read more: At last, relief from Covid is here – and it’s wearing a beautiful ballgown

For the attendees and their stylists, a year that has necessitated a heavily reduced schedule, has meant the Oscars has posed a rare opportunity to work tirelessly on one look. “Stylists would have been able to work closely with designers over a longer period, more like in the earlier history of the Oscars before the back-to-back party schedules,” UK-based stylist Cher Coulter tells The Independent.

With such a buzz around fashion at the event, it was uncertain whether it would herald a new normal for awards style or stick closely to the past. The dress code sent by the show’s producers slightly scathingly told attendees: “Formal is totally cool if you want to go there, but casual is really not.” However, with looks as varying as Frances McDormand’s understated black dress and Birkenstocks, to Leslie Odum Jr’s dazzling 24-karat gold thread suit, it was proof that easing back into glamorous dressing is going to be an individualistic process rather than a group effort.

From the show-stopping to the traditional, here are some of the looks which defined the mood of the night.

The go-bold-or-stay-home approach

Laura Dern at the 2021 Academy Awards wearing Oscar de la Renta

A presenter for the night, Laura Dern gave a show-stopping take on monochrome in an Oscar de la Renta confection with a feathered skirt and form-fitting top. As Coulter notes, “It felt as though the attendees chose not to worry about the hear-say of trends, after such a lack of red carpets this year, they seem to have stuck to their personal style and expressed themselves. With Dern, this dress suits her elegant figure and love of the unexpected”.

While there was nothing to rival Bjork’s iconic 2001 swan dress, some playful pops of colour from the likes of Reese Witherspoon, Regina King and Halle Berry kept the ceremony from looking too muted. It’s a contrast to 2020’s Academy Awards, where black and silver were the key colours on the red carpet.

Bare midriffs

Carey Mulligan at the 2021 Oscars wearing Valentino Couture

If celebrities are anything like us, their days over the past year were probably spent in loose loungewear, so the Oscars seems to have posed the ideal opportunity to shed some layers and reveal more skin. Promising Young Woman’s Carey Mulligan bared her midriff in a gold Valentino Couture bandeau gown, while Zendaya, wore a neon yellow dress from Valentino Couture gown with an ab-flashing cutout and Vanessa Kirby opted for a blush Gucci structured gown with a flash of midriff.

“There’s a sense of lightness and ease with this year’s Oscars looks”, notes Gelwicks. And while “visionary” in their modernity and craftsmanship, he adds that “a lot of the dresses are showing more skin than traditionally done, which also adds to this feeling of them being airy and breathable.”

Aptly, there was not a mask in sight for the socially distanced red carpet.

Old Hollywood glamour

Amanda Seyfried wears Armani Prive to the 2021 Academy Awards

In contrast to the revealing looks of the night which felt left-field for the ceremony, Amanda Seyfried’s scarlet Armani Prive dress had all hallmarks of some of the Oscars most iconic moments. “Most actresses will have a moment in red at the Oscars if they can pull it off, and after appearing in black and white in Mank, Amanda’s gown makes a bold statement that’s also traditional”, says Coulter.

Another perk to Seyfried’s wide plisse skirt? No need to monitor your distancing when the dress is doing the hard work for you.

An absence of accessories

Viola Davis at the 2021 Oscars wearing Alexander McQueen

Perhaps the biggest fashion shock of the night was how few diamonds graced the red carpet. From a $10 million Tiffany necklace worn by Anne Hathaway in 2011, to Nicole Kidman’s $7 million custom-made L’Wren Scott necklace in 2008, bold jewels are usually one of the most column-inch stealing statements of the night.

Save a few subtle dangling earrings and a choker worn by Vanessa Kirby in a look that recalled Gwyneth Paltrow’s 1999 Ralph Lauren moment, it was left to Zendaya to go big on jewels. An incredible Bvlgari layered necklace added a more traditional feel to her neon gown.

Given that until this event stars have been styled to attend via Zoom from home this year, which has negated the need for accessories, it’s surprising more attendees didn’t at least clamour for playful bags. Though singer Celeste, who performed in LA, notably made a statement with the hand on heart motif she created by clutching one of Gucci’s  anatomical accessories.

Only time will tell whether this night signals the start of a new set of red carpet rules, or marks the trepidant return to trends as we knew them pre pandemic.

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