Most of us will never go to the Oscars, never wear an haute-couture dress, never have an opportunity to oh-so-humbly thank a “glam squad” – or indeed, even to really know what a glam squad is. So it’s baffling that we care so much what actors wear on the red carpet. But care we do.
OK, I care. But I’m not alone, or it wouldn’t be the case that a knockout dress can get you on as many front pages as winning the golden statuette. I think it’s because the red carpet is where film stars are at their most starry. Being a film star is not the same as being an actor, not at all. Acting is about becoming a different person; stardom is about becoming something bigger, a rare and magical creature who we gaze at – mum, LOOK! – as bewitched as if we were in the presence of a snow leopard or giant panda. And the red carpet is the landscape where this pride of majestic lions of the Hollywood hills strut their animal magic.
In other words, red carpet fashion is about what to wear when people are looking at you. This is an area where many of us feel a little rusty just now. It’s not that we’ve all turned into hermits, but even when we have been free to hang out, blockbuster parties have been hard to come by.
And now it’s back. That thing where you’re going to walk into a room, and people you have never met are going to start to form an opinion of you before you’ve said a word. A fashion editor friend of mine from another newspaper has a brilliant take on this. When you are picking what to wear to a party, she says, think about what impression of your personality you’d like to convey when you walk into the room. Your personality, not your appearance – that’s the point. Maybe you want them to think you look interesting. Or fun. Or sophisticated. Or wild. Which is it? Because those are very different dresses, and that’s a very different rubric from thinking about which will make you look thin.
Film stars do exactly this. Angelina Jolie always looks dangerous. Jennifer Lawrence pretty much made adorable her middle name. Tilda Swinton nails avant garde. And you only have to look at Zoë Kravitz once to know she’s cool.
On the red carpet, this is a high-stakes celebrity game that could win you a million-dollar perfume contract if you play your cards right. But it’s way more fun to play the same game on a civilian scale. You don’t have to stay on-brand, for a start. One night you might be feeling high-energy and up for anything. So you choose an outfit that makes all the other high-energy, up-for-anything people in the room rush over to you and scream over your swan dress, or whatever. On another occasion you might want to give out a quieter, more grown-up energy, and so wear something by which people who just want a nice glass of wine and a quiet spot near the snacks for people-watching can identify you as a kindred spirit.
People who wear bright prints love to talk, in my experience. So if you’re feeling super chatty, go with a print. On the other hand, if you’re not in the mood for small talk, ivory silk is helpful for encouraging people to keep their distance – in case they spill a drink on you. The Oscars red carpet will be, as always, a masterclass in how to project yourself larger-than-life to an audience. Next time you’re getting ready to go out, give it a whirl. As they say in Hollywood: you can be anyone you want to be.