The XX Factor

Tuxedos, Turbans, and Tulle on The Red Carpet

Oh Jess ! Rihanna’s was just one of many ensembles of interest at this year’s Costume Institute Gala, which is sort of like the prom of high fashion, except all the most popular ladies attend on the arm of their main gay. (Or does that make it even more like the prom?) In addition to Rihanna’s tux, there was Kate Moss doing her most glamorous Norma Desmond impersonation , various tiny , little dresses, various huge , sculptural ones , some paisley , a caftan , a shout out to Vogue , and Madonna in a Marc Jacobs special-ruched, shiny, puffy in the bum and accompanied by… metaphorical antlers ?

I’m sure there are people put off by such a spectacular spectacular in the midst of our great recession (despite rumors the institute was having trouble selling tickets this year, all of the $250,000 tables sold out), but I’m tickled. Look at all these preposterous, gorgeous, ridiculous dresses! Look at how much fun pretty people can have with their clothes when they’re not worrying about the worst dressed list but are trying to impress designers and editors instead. If the Oscar red carpet looked like this, even Ryan Seacrest couldn’t make it boring.

As for Rihanna’s outfit in particular, I’m not as bothered by it as you were, Jess. It may be a bummer that there isn’t some swanky, avant garde dress she could have worn that would have conveyed exactly what her tuxedo does-that she’s strong, feisty, bold, in control-but there really isn’t. If she had come in the perfect gown what would that have said? That she’s back to normal? That she looks great? The tux is a way to acknowledge what happened, without having to talk about it (though, she should probably talk about it too). Clothes, especially on this level, are playful and full of quotations (she’s not just mimicking the fellas, she’s mimicking Marlene Dietrich ), which means they don’t fall into quite such neat masculine or feminine categories. Look closely at that tux-it’s shiny, immaculately fitted, has enormous Snow White shoulders, comes with a killer pair of cigarette pants and very high heels. It’s playing on the idea of a man’s outfit, more than actually being one. That it plays with our notions of masculinity and femininity, and what an abused woman should look like and wear and how she should behave, is probably exactly why Rihanna chose that outfit in the first place.