A brief history
The red carpet has an extensive history, with historians tracing it back to 458BC of Ancient Greece in a Greek tragedy play called ‘The Oresteia’ which it was performed for fans of the theatre. It initially came about, because the colour ‘red’ was commonly associated with the Gods and was therefore a warm and welcoming colour if one were ever to grace the mortal world.
Centuries later, painters over the years began to use the image of the red carpet to illustrate royalty or wealth which art enthusiasts would recognise signify this deeper meaning. In contemporary history, the red carpet still signifies a high stature of the social hierarchy but is used for high profile celebrities rather than immortal beings.
In 1961, the red carpet was introduced at the Academy Awards at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, and in years that followed the broadcasters of the ceremony chose to film the event outside of the venue, showing the arrival of these high-profile celebrities as they stepped out of their fancy limousines. By 1964, the red carpet became a globally acknowledged focal point for numerous celebrity’s to make a grand entrance and showcase their fashion to the world.
With the ever-changing role of fashion within society, the red carpet events have become high scale occasions that millions tune into to watch every year. High-end fashion, the subversions of social norms, and the rejections of gender norms are what entice myself and millions of others to watch. In saying this, here are my favourite looks over the years.
Female fashion statements
Barbra Streisand – 1969
At the 1969 Oscars, Barbra Streisand won her first Oscar for her role in ‘Funny Girl’, but her win was not what sparked a controversial conversation in households. She donned a black shimmery pantsuit, by Arnold Scaasi, that became transparent in the light making it of the most famous attires worn in Oscar history. It was a strive in feminism due to the fact she showed more skin than was deemed socially acceptable of women at the time. It is one of my all-time favourite red carpet looks due to the fact it subverted social norms in a time that it was not globally acceptable for women to wear ‘inappropriate’ fashion statements.
Cher – 1986
17 years later, once again on the Oscars red carpet, fans and critics were stunned by Cher’s black sequined gown with a two-foot headpiece designed by Bob Mackie. She later revealed in an interview that wearing the outfit made her feel like a queen. This is another personal favourite of red-carpet history due to its Gothic appeal and subversion of the stereotypical dress-styled fashion that viewers were so used to seeing from female icons that walk the carpet.
Lady Gaga – 2010
In true style of Lady Gaga, she exceptionally subverted social norms and stereotypical red carpet fashion when she came out wearing…a meat dress! Everything thing about her outfit, designed by Franc Fernandez, was made entirely of meat from her designer’s local butcher. From her miniature beret, her boots, and the clutch bag she carried, not a single part of her outfit was made from any other material than meat. Not only did this outfit exceed social norms expected of the red carpet, but it also delivered a very powerful political statement. Gaga stated that the dress referred to a speech she made prior to the look which urged the US military not to discriminate against members of the LGBT serving for the army. She stated that “If we don’t stand up for what we believe in and if we don’t fight for our rights… pretty soon we’re going to have as much rights as the meat on our bones.”
Macho men & gender bending fashion
Jared Leto – 2018
Jared Leto, the leader singer of rock band ‘30 Seconds to Mars’, left fans and critics in astonishment at the 2019 Met Gala. This regal outfit, designed by Alessandro Michele of Gucci, is a long-sleeved red gown with ropes of glistening jewellery embedded into it; but it was his prosthetic look alike head that stole the show at the ‘camp’ themed Gala. His replica head disturbingly had the exact same hairstyle and beard, that during his walk he gazed into its eyes and held it high for all to see. Whilst not having a deeper social meaning, it is still a personal favourite because of its boundary pushing that incorporates both fashion and horror.
Billy Porter – 2019
When it comes to high end fashion statements on the red carpet, no one does it quite like Billy Porter! From wearing elegant black dresses at the Hollywood Academy Awards, to recently wearing a sophisticated golden outfit fit for the gods, he constantly destroys gender norms of society. This ‘sun-god’ ensemble, created by ‘The Blonds’, was heavily inspired by ancient Egyptian mythology and Cleopatra, and despite it already being a show-stopping outfit his accessories included a 24-karat gold headdress and custom gold shoes designed by Giuseppe Zanotti. With the Met Gala’s category being centred around ‘camp’, Porter decided to have six shirtless men carry him into the event like the royalty he is. This became one of my all-time favourite red carpet looks when he stated that “What I love about having it at the Met Gala, and contextualising camp, is it brings honour to a word and genre that can be discounted very often or thought of as cheesy. When it’s done properly, it’s one of the highest forms of fashion and art”.
Harry Styles – 2019
From boy band cuteness to solo artist heartbreaker; Mr Harry Styles is consistently receiving praise for his subversion of gender norms in clothing, and 2019’s Met Gala look only heightened that praise. Chosen carefully by Anna Wintour herself, Harry Styles was asked to be one of our four leading co-chairs of the event and is even the youngest person to be honoured the title. His gender fluid attire consisted of custom black Gucci jumpsuit with lace cuffs and ruffled neckline, that allowed for his tattoos to be on show, and was welded into trousers wearing heeled Gucci shoes. Furthermore, he sported his signature ring collection and had beautifully painted black and teal nails with a single pearl earring to complete the look.