This year seemed a bit subdued as Oscar fashions go: there was nothing truly outrageous, either for good or for ill. There were no particular trends that everyone seemed to be following, no single color that everyone was wearing, no makeup or hairstyling technique that appeared over and over. So how to organize my red carpet fashion thoughts for this particular occasion? I’m going to focus on the single details that make or break a particular gown or look.
Jennifer Aniston wore a long beaded column that would have been spectacular except for one tiny misstep that’s not even noticeable in this photograph: the long panels of the skirt were see-through – which would have been fine had the top of the panel not veered up past the point of her hip. A little peekaboo is a fine thing, but we really didn't need to see quite that much of Jen’s (admittedly well-toned) thigh.
Cate Blanchett’s starkly simple black column was gloriously set off by a heavy, chunky turquoise necklace, proving that a single statement accessory can be all you need. Especially if you look like Cate Blanchett.
Jessica Chastain’s single notable detail was, unfortunately, a poor choice of neckline. An hourglass figure is a glorious thing, but it needs to be balanced or it quickly looks out of proportion. The broad neckline and wide shoulders of this gown broadened her figure and made her look top-heavy. Just pulling in the drape to the inside of the straps would have made all the difference in the world.
I adored Marion Cotillard’s dress – until she turned around. I’m not sure what the giant clump of fabric down her back was supposed to be, but it looked both ugly and extremely uncomfortable. At least she looked stunning as long as she was sitting on the monstrosity behind her. Naomi Watts had a similar misstep with another gown that was lovely from the front, but from the back it looked like she had gotten nervous about being too revealing and had thrown on a sequined bandeau underneath her dress at the last minute.
Seaming is a subtle but effective way to create visual interest and draw the eye, as demonstrated by both Viola Davis’s and Zoe Saldana’s gowns. The lines of the seams were slimming and interesting, drawing the eye in at the waist and creating a gentle, soft flare in the skirt. Two very different looks but made effective with similar details.
Laura Dern and Scarlett Johansson both wore gowns that were flawless, as were the figures underneath them. But the hairstyles ruined the look for me. Dern’s hair flopping in front of her face was so distracting that I could hardly pull my eyes away from it, and Johansson’s Brigitte-Nielsen-in-1985 flat top was too masculine and harsh for her feminine gown and jewel-encrusted neckpiece. Never let a bad hairstyle steal the spotlight from your gown – or yourself!
Dakota Johnson and Gwyneth Paltrow both wore gowns that were simple and lovely, with a single eye-catching shoulder detail. However, the detail which worked in concept was not well executed in either case. Johnson’s silver loop and knot was too bulky and uncomfortable-looking, and looked too much like a military shoulder cord, which didn’t fit with the delicate style of the dress; and Paltrow’s giant flower was out of proportion, distracting, and vaguely…the female version of phallic.
I could pick any one of several details of Anna Kendrick’s gown that made it work, but if I had to pick just one, I’d go with the color. It’s not commonly worn (like black or red or champagne), and it sets off her peaches and cream coloring beautifully. The color alone made her stand out in the sea of beautiful gowns. Emma Stone also went with an unusual color, but although it was eye-catching, it was not as flattering with her coloring, so was not as successful.
A single pop of bright or contrasting color (costumers refer to this as a “poison color”) can move a look from boring to spectacular. Reese Witherspoon’s contrasting black bands break up the expanse of white and define and slim her waist. Nicole Kidman’s simple column was a bland color with a straight silhouette, a plain neckline, and only a single high slit to add visual interest, until you add a bright crimson belt, then POW! You have a Look with a capital L.
Keira Knightley’s maternity gown shows how an otherwise dull look can be saved by spectacular fabric. This beautifully embroidered fabric added texture, color, sheen, and subtle geometric lines to a gown style that could have been boring, but instead was interesting and sweet and highlighted her expectant glow. Similarly, the touch of embroidery on Kerry Washington’s peplum brought interest and focus to an otherwise bland look.
Any guesses at to what fashion misstep I’m going to call Lady Gaga out on? Cleaning the oven in red gloves, anyone? Elbow-length red satin gloves would have saved the outfit; these weird flared things practically had a “Rubbermaid” label sticking out of them.
Jennifer Lopez’s “single feature” was not so much the feature itself, but the constancy of that feature: deep, cleavage-baring V-necks. I liked this gown; I even liked the deep V. But when every single gown that you wear has exactly the same feature, it’s time to try something new and different.
Lupita N’yongo’s gown’s most memorable feature was that it was made out of thousands of pearls! This gave her gown a fascinating texture, and created beautiful eye-catching lines all over. Rosamund Pike’s striking scarlet gown used contrasting textures to flatter: lace in the body of the gown with smooth satin inserts at the waist, making her already tiny waist seem even tinier. Subtle but effective.
So what are the details that can make or break a gown? A single statement accessory or details; interesting fabrics, textures, and seaming; effective use of a poison color; flattering your figure; and keeping details like hair and accessories in the same style as your gown. And if all else fails, get someone with a nice smile and good fashion sense to stay at your side and you’re sure to be a winner.