The temperature topped 90 degrees on Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles, making the purple-carpet procession before the Emmy Awards a visibly sweaty affair. Décolletages glistened, hairlines dripped, and actors couldn’t stop talking about how uncomfortable they were. When E! host Zanna Roberts Rassi asked Queer Eye’s Antoni Porowski for comment on the fashion turnout, he said he’d been too busy dabbing the shine off his face to notice anyone’s clothes.
Nevertheless, many of the sweaty bodies were clothed beautifully, with an emphasis on Cinderella-blue, seasonally inappropriate sleeves, and a few well-placed dramatic accents.
The actors who committed to saturated colors in luxurious fabrics were some of the best-dressed of the evening. Greta Lee, the breakout “sweet birthday, baby!” star of Russian Doll, wore an iridescent two-piece outfit with a top as voluminous as the single much-beloved top she wears on the show. In allover lavender—including her headwrap, nails, purse, and eyeshadow—Niecy Nash told E!’s Giuliana Rancic of her skillfully skimpy setup, I’m “trying to keep it all in, but if it falls out you’re welcome.” (Nash is nominated for When They See Us, but her outstanding look was all Claws.) Sandra Oh showed up in simple makeup and a messy bun, making her clean-lined Zac Posen number look far less fussy.
Corsets made several prominent appearances on some of the biggest trendsetters at the event. Zendaya’s grass-green gown was a testament to the power of tailoring (those boning lines! That liquid drape!) and the perfect skin-tone lining. Kendall Jenner came up with the best way to avoid the constant need to hike up a strapless dress: layer a latex turtleneck underneath! The award for most aggressive boning goes to Indya Moore’s zippered Louis Vuitton number—a cross between a toga, a loincloth, and a turn-of-the-century Delia’s dress.
The actors who committed to long sleeves and statement shoulders in the L.A. heat deserve special commendation. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s Alex Borstein was heavily shoulder-padded and deservedly self-promoting, with a giant monogrammed accent over shimmering amethyst satin. Vera Farmiga of When They See Us went for high gothic drama in a red lace prairie-dress silhouette. Annie Murphy’s full-length navy sequins would have been better suited to a winter awards show, like the Oscars, but what’s a TV star with a great wintery dress to do?! (She looked great anyway!)
A few stars showed up on Sunday in sui generis outfits that were impossible to miss. Billy Porter’s Michael Kors Couture look was a marriage of Lil Nas X and Salvador Dalí: cartoonishly asymmetrical cowboy hat, fringed scarf, glittered pinstripes, and two-tone platform peep-toe booties. (Somehow, even when he’s doing too much, Billy Porter is never doing too much.) Gwendoline Christie took a stab at what Brienne of Tarth’s knighthood vestment might look like—a bit gimmicky, and Brienne would never wear a dress, but a woman who submits herself for an Emmy and ends up nabbing the nomination can wear whatever lion-adorned garment she damn well pleases. And props to James Van Der Beek for going all-in on dusky pink and mauve, with a carnation-ass boutonniere Dawson should have worn to prom. (Miss me with those brown suede slippers, though.)
Allover metallics will always be a red (or, in this case, purple) carpet mainstay, but some celebrities managed a fresh take on Sunday. Natasha Lyonne had one of the night’s best looks in a giant pussy bow and generous pleats, which she topped with gold aviator frames once she got in the building. Veep’s Anna Chlumsky was duly pleated, too, in an unexpected, little-seen color combination that absolutely worked. Continuing her personal streak of awards-show pants, Amy Poehler sported a jumpsuit that was one of the night’s few short-sleeved outfits, and seemingly one of the most comfortable. The mixed-metal gown on Ava Duvernay looked like it burned in the sun and weighed 100 solid-gold pounds, but as a spectacle, from a viewer’s perspective, it was beautifully, angelically worth it.
Pale blue was the top color choice of the evening, with at least a dozen celebrities dolled up in the Disney princess shade. Some of the best: Jameela Jamil in a pool-blue gown in her favored shape (plunging, flouncy); Brittany Snow with some interesting texture, courtesy of the teensy polka dots and a handful of thoughtful nips and tucks on the bodice; Regina King, regal as always in a hyperfeminine dress with the surprising detail of an unfinished, unraveling hem; and Padma Lakshmi, a tight, bright vision with a breezy cape out back.
I’m a sucker for surprising sleeves. On Sunday, Sharp Objects’ Patricia Clarkson and Pose co-creator Steven Canals offered them up two ways: structured, off the shoulder panels from Clarkson, and over-the-top ombré from Canals. Laverne Cox wore an equally striking silhouette—she floated down the carpet on a train of dreamlike puffs, carrying a marabou origami accent on her shoulder. She is every bit a timeless Hollywood glamour puss, only more so. (Her rainbow clutch shouted out the LGBTQ discrimination case the Supreme Court is set to hear on Oct. 8.)
Somehow, at least four people ended up wearing red-and-pink gowns. A trend? A coincidence? Or a planned takeover? One point in the latter column: Two of the dresses were on two This Is Us stars, Susan Kelechi Watson and Mandy Moore. They were each impractical in their own, glorious ways—Watson’s with her enormous, dragging sleeves, and Moore’s with its precarious perch, held up only by the goodwill of her co-stars. Taraji P. Henson and Marisa Tomei went a gauzier route.
Black and white is a more traditional color pairing for eveningwear, but no less striking in a daring silhouette. Catherine O’Hara wore sky-high heels under her very on-brand gown, making her a towering column of elegance Moira Rose would envy. Viola Davis had a Jekyll and Hyde thing going on: sexy and strapless on one side, classy and off-the-shoulder on the other. I’m not entirely sure what was happening with the sheer black panels dangling off the front of Karamo Brown’s blouse, but I loved the way it flowed as he moved. And I’m really not sure what was up with Melanie Liburd’s look—she resembled a bride-groom cake topper that melted into a single statuette—but I didn’t hate the double-breasted peplum, and I thought I hated all peplums!
Cutouts, rhinestones, and high-octane femininity had a good showing on the carpet. Veep’s Sarah Sutherland gave her petal-pink gown a very moody-’90s-rocker/slightly wilting flower vibe with her center part, a dark pendant necklace, and some scattered wrinkles. Nathalie Emmanuel’s spangled geometric neckline was a welcome distraction from the memory of Missandei’s untimely death. Eliza Scanlen of Sharp Objects looked whimsical and twirly in youthful bows, made a touch less saccharine by her gamine haircut. And bravo to Maisie Williams, whose seemingly simple black jeweled dress gets progressively more complicated the longer you look at it.
Belts! You don’t see many of them on awards-show dresses, making them unpredictable accessories that punch above their weight class. Naomi Watts had the best of the night: a casual, clunky belt that funked up her otherwise refined (and stunning) gown. Sophie Turner and Dascha Polanco wore daintier pink ones, setting off the lines of their classic silhouettes.
There’s two ways to wear a tuxedo shirt: perfectly pressed or thoroughly mussed. Every person who wears suits should be asking Clea freaking Duvall where she got this satin jacket and trousers so exactingly tailored. (Clea Duvall may well be who tuxedos were invented for.) Meanwhile, Kerry Washington achieved a nice juxtaposition of “I woke up like this” and “lol no I didn’t” with an oversize, popped-and-cuffed shirt over a species of trousers—sequined!—rarely seen in the wild.
Only a few prints showed themselves on the purple carpet, and I salute them all for their bravery. My favorites: Charlie Barnett of Russian Doll and Tales of the City glowed in a forest green tux with a barely-there star print and a shawl collar (the most popular pick for the Emmys’ best-dressed men). The sibling lovers of Game of Thrones—ahem, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Lena Headey, that is—both cloaked themselves in prints, but only one was fit for Westeros. Coster-Waldau opted for gold dragonskin, while Headey’s fabric looked like it was pilfered from a grandparent’s couch, in a good way. Another plus: Her sheer ruffles looked pleasingly light and breezy. A Kingslayer’s brocade tuxedo jacket doesn’t seem likely to breathe.
Correction, Sept. 23, 2019: This caption originally misidentified Vera Farmiga as Annie Murphy and Annie Murphy as Vera Farmiga.