The red carpet offers the public a sneak peak into the lives of the rich and famous. News networks are set alight by the events that incorporate them such as the Emmys and the Oscars, and for weeks after, our phones are targeted with images of their outfits, the scandals involved and any interesting interviews that have taken place on them.
There is no denying that every red carpet event is newsworthy and spellbinding for us to watch, even if it is just to see our favourite celebrity or to see what extravaganza Lady Gaga has come to present us with. However, over time the purpose of the red carpet has changed, from simply giving celebrities the freedom to show their style, to becoming an agenda setting space that is a platform for highlighting political, cultural or societal issues that affect the globe.
Where it all began
The first formal red carpet events started in the 1920s during the golden age of film and television. Stars like Grace Kelly and Joan Crawford came out in full glamour, with only the worry of the photographer’s flash as they were not blessed (or cursed?) with the likes of social media and mass, full colour broadcasting quite yet.
The red carpet represented wealth and royalty. This harks back to the colour red being historically inaccessible to the ordinary person due to the expense of producing the dye, and as a result was associated with those in positions of power and wealth as they were the ones who could afford to wear it. As noted in Time’s article on the history of the red carpet, red fabric was by law only allowed to be worn by cardinals, the Catholic church’s highest-ranking men in the late 1200s.
By 1964 the red carpet was now being broadcast in colour as a pre-ceremony event before the Oscars. There was increased attention on the stars’ outfits and more paparazzi given access to take the pictures that would be seen in newspapers all over the world.
In terms of commentary, there was still little in comparison compared to what we see at today’s red carpet events, and instead the event relied on the camera and the public’s appreciation of the celebrity’s clothing taste. However, as the world rapidly changed, and social media, technology and world events took place, so, the red carpet changed. The evolution of the red carpet is representative of the increasing importance placed on celebrities and how they are seen as the modern version of royalty.
Where it all changed
The Vietnam war was a turning point in American history, with a large portion of America’s population publicly expressing their disagreement with this war. Alongside this were vocal celebrities, including the likes of Jane Fonda, expressing their anti-Vietnam views through the platform of the red carpet.
In 1972, she graced the red carpet with a black trouser suit and a Mao-styled collar in a sign of solidarity with both the women’s liberation movement and the anti-Vietnam protests. This particular show of solidarity towards such a polarising political issue was a game changer in the role that celebrities had in influencing popular culture, and the way that the red carpet would be used later on.
Flash forward to 2017 at the Screen Actors award, where we saw the Big Bang Theory’s Simon Helberg and his wife, Jocelyn, outright opposing Trump’s immigration bans by holding signs saying ‘refugees welcome’ and ‘let me in’ written over Jocelyn’s chest.
Amongst other celebrities that year, there was a more subtle sign of support to the protest, shown in the light blue ribbon worn on celebrities outfits. The implication of celebrities protesting against Trump’s bans sends a message globally that there was a media backlash and outright disapproval of his presidency. With greater access from the public due to social media, the red carpet has become a news outlet for these celebrities, and a source of information for the public.
Perhaps the most significant and wide sweeping political statement of the most recent years is the #TimesUp movement, in light of Harvey Weinstein’s various sexual harassment crimes within Hollywood. As noted in the Telegraph’s article on the protests on the red carpet, this show of solidarity was far reaching, alongside the sister movement, #MeToo. By wearing suits, or all in black, female celebrities joined in unity against the institutionalised sexism within the Hollywood scene, amplifying a global movement that spread like wildfire over the world and helped to protest against the sexual harassment of all women.
Where it’s heading
It seems that the red carpet has travelled a long way, from being a private, distant lens into the glamorous world of Hollywood, to being a global platform for celebrities to share their political agendas and highlight what is going on within society. As Varsity states in it’s article on the relevance of the red carpet, the red carpet is also a way of commercial endeavour. It’s well known that celebrities are paid to endorse certain brands at the events, and with this comes scrutiny on the sustainability of these fashion designers. The events itself often have ludicrous ticket prices, with one at the Met-Gala for example selling for $35,000.
With the recent crises of the pandemic leaving people jobless and with the sad passing of many relatives, this sign of excess, wealth and luxury is most likely the last thing the public want to see. Instead, the continuation of using the red carpet as a platform for celebrities to spread awareness on topical issues like sustainability, sexual health and sexism is the direction the red carpet should continue travelling; as an informative and diverse platform to represent movements’ voices that otherwise may not be heard in the wider media arena acting as a microcosm of our society.