Red dresses are dominating this awards season. Why the colour is universal, according to experts

Shades of red are the latest fashion trend this awards season. Amber Raiken speaks to stylists about why celebrities are choosing vibrant red looks, and how to make the colour work for everyone

Amber Raiken
New York
Monday 11 March 2024 13:28 GMT
Related: Helen Mirren gets own Barbie doll complete with mini Oscar

With awards season in full swing since January, we’ve seen Hollywood’s famous faces make their way to various red carpets in their most fashionable looks. There is one colour we’ve been seeing more often than the rest: red.

According to fashion experts, red is considered a universial colour, with certified image consultant and artist Lorne Alexander noting in her blog that red tends to look flattering on most people. It’s not necessarily a surprise that red is trending in celebrity fashion. For example, Reese Witherspoon’s signature colour throughout her time working in Hollywood has often been a vibrant red, with the actress attending the SAG Awards on 24 February in a strapless gown of that shade.

The Emmy Awards were one of the first events in January to prove that red is here to stay this year, with Grey’s Anatomy alum Katherine Heigl, Abbott Elementary’s Janelle James, and Daisy Jones and The Six’s Camila Morrone all stunning in simple, yet elegant red gowns. The trend also extends beyond dresses, as The Office alum John Krasinski and Saltburn star Barry Keoghan both attended the Golden Globes this year in dark red suits.

On Sunday 10 March, our favourite stars will be making their way to the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles for the 96th Annual Academy Awards. While we have no idea what celebrities will be wearing, we can likely expect some bold, red looks at the ceremony. Amid the renewed rise in popularity of the colour, stylists have shared their take on the universal shade and whether red will continue to dominate on and off the red carpet.

Speaking to The Independent, Portland based stylist Grace Thomas expressed how red carpet fashion has been inspired by high-end designers, whose looks have been captured both on and off the runway. Luxurious fashion brands made use of bright red fabric throughout 2023, with models wearing Valentino suits and dress shirts of the colour during a Paris Fashion Week show last March. French fashion house Dior has also embraced the trend, as Jennifer Lawrence attended the 76th annual Cannes Film Festival in May 2023 in a vibrant red gown by the brand.

“Celebrities are always pulling their outfits from couture runway shows. It’s not things that you’re just buying off the rack,” Thomas explained. “It’s definitely more customised and high fashion stuff. So the fashion industry really influences what we see on the red carpet, and I think we saw a lot more of that in women’s fashion.”

She further explained that, in her experience, she’s seen men’s fashion take a cue from women’s, especially when it comes to what’s trending, like red looks. “What continues to be a lasting trend is that specific shade of red,” she added. “It’s a bright, powerful red that hasn’t gone away. It continues season over season in fashion. So usually when we see more of that, everyone wants to pick up on it and utilise in their own way.”

(Getty Images for The Recording A)

There has been a lot of research conducted about the meanings of colour, with Verywell Mind noting that the feelings that red is said to “psychologically stimulate” are anger, power, passion, and love. The colour has also been linked to attractiveness, with a 2017 study by the European Journal of Social Psychology having 180 university students wear either a blue or red shirt. After doing a series of experiments, including looking in a mirror and observing their reflections, results found that participants in the red shirt reported a higher level of self-attractiveness than those in blue.

Regardless of where you are, feeling comfortable and content with what you’re wearing can boost your confidence levels. And since red is associated with feeling powerful, men’s personal stylist Patrick Kenger, who’s worked with celebrities, agrees that more stars have been opting for the bold colour on the red carpet. However, he doesn’t necessarily believe that their decision to wear red has a deeper meaning.

“Because the reds we’re talking about are a bolder colour, it takes confidence to wear it rather than opting for a neutral,” Kenger said. “Thus, we can attribute that confident choice to the wearer’s confidence level. They have the confidence to wear more of a statement outfit rather than playing it safe. However, I think most people are opting for it as a bold stylish choice rather than to convey a certain message.”

According to Thomas, when celebrities opt for a bright look at an awards ceremony, they’re well aware that they’re going to stand out. She explained that outlets then want to publicise that, which in turn helps fans gain some of their own fashion inspiration.

(Getty Images)

“People want to photograph things like that a little bit more that are trendy as well, and are of the moment,” she said. “You’ll see a lot more of those fashion oriented photos, as you see rundowns of fashion and all of the events, because publications want to tie into what’s trending. So that way, you and me, the average person, can try to emulate that in our own day to day wear.”

Although we may be inspired by the signature red dresses worn by Resse Witherspoon, colours look different on everyone. Thomas noted that as we think about if red is fitting for us, we have to take the various shades into account. She cautions against thinking that the same shade of red is flattering on everyone, and instead urges towards choosing a shade that compliments one’s natural skin tone, while noting that designers at fashion shows and stylists for celebrities on the red carpet have taken colouring into account.

“There’s the crimson colour we’re seeing right now in runway shows and the pop of red that’s more of an orangey red,” she explained. “So, you can kind of play into what undertones look best on you. Like apple red isn’t going to look good on every single person as much as it might look good on Reese. But we’ll always be able to play around with red, and we can definitely find that right red that will work for us.”

(Getty Images)

With the help of their stylists, celebrities find what colours fit them. This has also become a requested trend outside of Hollywood, with the viral colour analysis trend giving people the opportunity to find the shades that suit them best, such as through personal colour consultations, where professional stylists use large coloured swatches to learn more about an individual’s colouring. Appointments also consist of stylists talking you through colour combinations, outfit ideas, and makeup suggestions, before you’re given a fabric swatch to use as your own guide when shopping. The trend has developed even further over the last year, such as with the seasonal colour analysis, where you determine which of the 12 different colour palettes, inspired by the four seasons of the year, would look best on you.

Speaking to The Independent, Thomas noted that while there are opportunities to see which colours compliment your skin tone, this isn’t necessarily a route you have to take when choosing a crimson outfit.

“I know people that really lean into that,” she said about colour analysis. “And they’ll only wear that shade of red because they know it looks good on their skin tone, and that it does look better than other shades. But I think there’s also personal preference involved with picking colours and picking styles. And some people might not be as influenced by their skin tone.”

However, Kenger urges that if you are interested in investing in some bold red outfits, that you gradually lean into it by wearing darker shades first. “Typically, I recommend burgundy to clients as it’s not as bright and vibrant as some reds, so it’s a good starting point if you’re not used to wearing red or want to wear something less bold,” he said.

With the Oscars only days away, fashion lovers are anxiously waiting to see how stars will stun on the red carpet. According to both Thomas and Kenger, we will most likely see more celebrities in red suits, dresses, and ties as awards season continues this year. And with winter coming to a close, we can also expect celebrities to opt for other colours that are just as bright and bold as red.

“People are really eager to get into more pastel tones and bright colours because everyone’s usually just bored of wearing dark tones for all of winter,” Thomas explained. “The transition is a little early with awards season, but it’s nice to see the brighter red on the carpet, as we lean into the warmer months. So we can start to see: ‘Spring is coming, we’re excited about colour.’”

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