It was the year the red carpet returned. And what a comeback it’s been.
Few will need reminding that in 2020, almost every major celebrity event you could think of was either cancelled, postponed, or held virtually.
Fashion fans were thrilled, then, that this time around, red carpets were back on as real-life celebrations resumed.
Against all odds, everything from the Brits and the Grammys to the Oscars and the Emmys happened IRL in 2021.
Even the Met Gala returned, marking the first time the annual New York City soiree had been held in two years.
When it came to outfits, there were plenty of standout moments – ones that kickstarted not only global fashion trends (naked dresses, anyone?) but memes, tweets, and talking points.
Kim Kardashian, Met Gala
There are outfits and then there are “outfits”. If you’re a celebrity, of course, there’s another category. Less like clothes, more like costumes, these are essentially pieces of art that are created with the sole purpose of causing a ruckus, or an endless string of memes. And there’s one place where they almost always appear: the Met Gala.
The annual New York City soiree has brought us everything from omelette dresses to gigantic blankets. This year, though, we had something entirely new. Kim Kardashian arrived wearing a head-to-toe black bodysuit, designed by Balenciaga, that covered absolutely every part of her body, including her face.
The outfit, which included a long train, built-in stiletto shoes and gloves, was actually designed by Kardashian’s ex, Kanye West, who collaborated with the fashion house’s Demna Gvasalia on the project. It was one of the key talking points from the event.
Bella Hadid, Cannes
One celebrity who is accustomed to going viral with her red-carpet outfits is model Bella Hadid – remember that red dress from Cannes in 2016? This year, the 25-year-old’s fashion moment also came via the French film festival. Only this time, it was less about her outfit and more about her jewellery.
For the premiere of Three Floors, Hadid wore an avant-garde creation from the Schiaparelli Haute Couture autumn/winter 2021/22 collection. The floor-length, form-fitting black wool gown dipped under Hadid’s chest, which was left exposed and covered by a large statement gold-dipped necklace in the shape of bronchi (the airways within the lungs).
Covered in rhinestones, and secured at the nape of the neck by a chunky gold chain, the embellishment was a fashion statement unlike any other on the red carpet this year.
Michaela Coel, Met Gala
The I May Destroy You star made quite the debut at this year’s Met Gala, arriving at the event in a blue sequin all-in-one bodysuit that came with built-in stilettos. The look featured a wide neckline that dipped in a low V.
Coel accessorised the look with some statement blue cocktail rings. Many fashion fans described it as their favourite outfit of the night, particularly considering it was so unlike anything else the writer and actor had worn on the red carpet before.
The American actor is an established name in the fashion industry, having been named “Fashion Icon” of the year at this year’s CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) awards in the US. Almost all of her red-carpet looks spawn viral tweets and discussions – including the “spider dress” she recently wore to the premiere of Spider-Man: No Way Home – so it’s safe to say there was plenty to choose from when it came to her standout moments.
This yellow gown, though, is a clear winner – British Vogue dubbed it the “biggest wow moment on the Oscars red carpet”. Zendaya, who presented an award on the night, wore a vibrant strapless gown that featured an elegant cutout in the middle and a flowing floor-length skirt that billowed behind her. It was a winning look.
Megan Fox, VMAS
The American actor was the talk of the evening at the 2021 MTV Video Music Awards in this “naked dress”. The completely sheer skin-coloured gown was designed by Thierry Mugler and featured a built-in bralet and thong. Aside from that, everything else was on display.
The actor styled her hair in loose, wet-look curls to complete the look, which was widely praised on Twitter. “Megan Fox at the VMAs is what you NEED to see right now,” one person tweeted. Another wrote: “Megan Fox and Mugler are truly an iconic duo.”
Many people compared it to a look worn by Kim Kardashian to the Met Gala in 2019, which was also designed by Mugler and featured a custom-made nude corset with a tight-fitting skirt that had embellished crystals hanging from it.
Amanda Seyfried, Oscars
Another one of the most talked-about outfits at this year’s Oscars belonged to Amanda Seyfried. The tulle scarlet gown featured a strapless, low-plunging neckline and a full pleated skirt. According to Vogue, the Armani dress, which was designed by Giorgio Armani himself, was inspired by hibiscus flowers.
“I trusted the looks and never let anything wear me,” Seyfried told the publication of her style ahead of the Oscars. “[My stylist] Elizabeth Stewart and I have been working together for over a decade, and there’s an instinctive, shared vision that exists between us. She sends options that fit my body and my style without fail. That confidence does a lot to how I wear the clothes.”
Lil Nas X, Met Gala
Lil Nas X wore not one, not two, but three outfits (all designed by Donatella Versace) on the Met Gala red carpet. Like Lady Gaga before him (she also famously wore four outfits when she hosted the Met Gala in 2019), the rapper chose to begin the evening in an ornate regal cape covered in intricate gold beading.
After dramatically taking it off, the rapper’s first look was shed to reveal a gold suit of armour – and then he took that off as well. Underneath it all was a glittery gold bodysuit that was covered in crystals and Versace’s signature print. Due to the sheer majesty of it all, Lil Nas X’s look certainly deserves a place on this list.
Phoebe Bridgers, Grammys
The indie musician might not have taken home any awards at this year’s Grammys (she was nominated in four categories) but she certainly earned a spot on the best-dressed list of the night in this eye-catching Thom Browne dress. The floor-length black gown featured a skeleton on the front with silver and crystal embellishments.
During a stop on E! Live from the Red Carpet, the 26-year-old singer, who is often seen wearing skeleton-inspired clothing, explained that she had spotted the look years ago. “I wear a skeleton costume all the time, but one of the reasons I do is because I saw this Thom Browne dress forever ago and thought it was so cool,” she said. “And I asked for it. I basically stole it.”
Kendall Jenner, Met Gala
The model tapped into the naked dress trend at this year’s Met Gala in a show-stopping gown designed by Givenchy. The sheer dress was almost entirely covered in crystals and took its cues from one of Audrey Hepburn’s most iconic roles, as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady.
In the film, Hepburn wore a shimmering white dress created by Hubert de Givenchy himself – the actor collaborated with the designer several times during her career. For Jenner’s look, which featured almost identical shoulder detailing, the design house created a built-in corset and crystal gloves. Jenner wore a pair of nude pants underneath.
Tilda Swinton, Cannes
Occasionally there is an outfit that doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves. Tilda Swinton’s eye-popping blue suit at Cannes is one of those outfits. The structural two-piece featured a short-sleeved blazer with wide 1980s power shoulders and a cinched waist.
Paired with cigarette trousers and Swinton’s signature icy blonde bob, it was an ensemble worthy of far more praise than it got. It was so striking, in fact, that the French Dispatch star accessorised it with absolutely nothing aside from a pair of grey stiletto heels and contrasting coral lipstick. Other than that, the suit spoke for itself.
Billie Eilish, Met Gala
As one of the Met Gala hosts for this year, Billie Eilish was always going to wear something special to the event. But few expected something quite as staggering as this classic Hollywood outfit. Paired with a slick blonde bob, the singer’s look drew comparisons with Marilyn Monroe.
The gown itself, a nude, corseted tulle gown by Oscar de la Renta, featured a low neckline with tulle shoulders and a full tulle skirt. Eilish paired the gown with several items of Cartier jewellery, including diamond earrings, bracelets, and rings. It was undoubtedly one of the most striking looks of the night.
Carey Mulligan, Oscars
The British actor was compared to an actual Oscar award on the night of the awards thanks to her incredible Valentino Couture two-piece. The one-of-a-kind gold outfit featured a thin bralet and a full skirt. It was embroidered with thousands of iridescent sequins with pearl reflections and, according to Vogue, took 350 hours to make.
“I just feel so honoured to wear it,” Mulligan told the publication at the time. Her stylist, Nicky Yates, paired the look with Cartier earrings featuring tourmalines and sapphires, in addition to a Tyler Ellis clutch and Stuart Weitzman heels.
Dua Lipa, Brits
For this year’s Brit awards, the British songstress paid homage to one of our greatest musical icons: Amy Winehouse. The custom Vivienne Westwood look featured a yellow corseted mini dress covered in purple netting. It boasted a draped asymmetric train in saffron silk.
The off-shoulder gown was accessorised with a pair of purple faux-croc ghillie platforms and a three-row pearl choker, in addition to a pair of stockings. Meanwhile, Lipa modelled her hair on Winehouse’s signature beehive.
Westwood’s Andreas Kronthaler told British Vogue that the look was a celebration of British culture that was perfectly suited to these times. “The sun is rising after the lockdown, a yellow dress is the perfect choice. [And of the second look], the Brit Awards celebrates all that is British; we want to celebrate the NHS and fly their flag,” he said.
Rihanna and A$AP Rocky, Met Gala
They might have been hours late, but Rihanna and A$AP Rocky certainly made an entrance when they did finally arrive at this year’s Met Gala. Rihanna chose an all-black overcoat from the Balenciaga couture collection, which featured a black wraparound structured neckline and a headpiece.
As for the singer’s boyfriend, A$AP Rocky chose a handmade multicoloured quilt that he wrapped around himself on the red carpet. The custom ERL (led by Eli Russell Linnetz) quilt, which was originally found in a second-hand shop in California, was layered over the top of a classic tuxedo and featured the designer’s family name embroidered onto it.
“I quilted on things that were important to me, from my dad’s bathrobe to my boxers,” Linnetz told Vogue of his customisation process. “Then we used these amazing plaids and flannels and embroidered my family’s name all over the quilt.”
Zoe Kravitz, Met Gala
One of the other celebrities to join the naked dress trend this year was Zoe Kravitz. And she did it with aplomb. The Big Little Lies star chose a bejewelled mesh Saint Laurent dress that had skin-coloured panels and a matching bejewelled G-string.
Kravitz wore the gown with nothing but a pair of strappy black stilettos and a pair of drop diamond earrings. The 32-year-old’s outfit prompted praise from many of her fans on social media. However, one individual criticised the look on Instagram, writing: “I don’t understand why they go practically naked. She’s gorgeous. Why does she feel the need to wear a dress like this?”
The comment prompted a response from Kravitz, who replied: “Being uncomfortable with the human body is colonisation/brainwashing. It’s just a body. We all got em.”
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