The Goods

On the Oscars Red Carpet, Everyone Was Just Trying to Hold It Together

Sigourney Weaver, Greta Gerwig, Penelope Cruz, and Florence Pugh.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Amy Sussman/Getty Images and Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images.

The drama of impeachment and an impending presidential election may be roiling the world of politics, but on Sunday night the actors and artists who walked the Oscars red carpet were a picture of glowing serenity. In these troubled and uncertain times, celebrities have found new ways to hold their outfits—and, maybe, themselves—together: There were dozens of bows, a resurgence of gowns with belts, and a new influx of wrap-style jackets on men. There was also plenty of what I like to think of as the weighted, anxiety-soothing blankets of black-tie attire: collar necklaces, capes, and heavy draping. Even the riskier ensembles seemed designed to make the wearer feel safe.

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On the belted front, both Little Women director Greta Gerwig (with a fringed hem in a stately olive tone you don’t see much on the red carpet) and Little Women actor Florence Pugh (in tiered turquoise Louis Vuitton) wore adorable little color-coordinated buckles. Like Pugh, Penelope Cruz wore a high-low hem, hers on a more subdued number with pearls and a bow. Sigourney Weaver accessorized her extravagantly pleated Dior gown with a bit of knotted rope.

Natalie Portman, Julia Butters, and Lucy Boynton.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Amy Sussman/Getty Images.

Natalie Portman, too, wore a rope belt over her dress, which had two embroidered elements: a line of leaves down the front, and the names of female directors who weren’t nominated for awards on the edge of her cape. The cape ended in lapels, lending a structured, masculine edge to what was otherwise a flowy wisp of gauze. Lucy Boynton and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s Julia Butters also wore gowns that used echoes of traditional menswear to balance out a bevy of feminine elements: Boynton in a cummerbund, twin rows of buttons, and allover bows, and Butters in bubblegum pink ruffles with a straight collar.

Margot Robbie, Zazie Beetz, and Sandra Oh.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Amy Sussman/Getty Images.
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Speaking of bows! They were everywhere: on Margot Robbie’s arms, down the front of Zazie Beetz’s severe corset, and on the waist of Sandra Oh’s texture-rich (lace! sequins! velvet!) pile of gold.

Saoirse Ronan, Charlize Theron, and Kristen Wiig.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Amy Sussman/Getty Images.

Sculptural ruffles can lend elegance or whimsy to an ensemble, depending on the design. Sunday night saw a little of both. Saoirse Ronan’s Valentino gown was just a little bit playful with its protruding layers and full lavender skirt. Charlize Theron was characteristically sleek in nearly matte Dior Couture. Kristen Wiig was the world’s sexiest, most sophisticated sea slug in sheer side panels above a couple of well-tailored rows of ruffles.

Geena Davis, Rooney Mara, and Scarlett Johansson.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Amy Sussman/Getty Images.
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A few actors wore delicately crafted dresses with contrasting textures on top and bottom. Geena Davis’ dress used perfectly placed rows of sequins to create a smooth bodice that gave way to intricately beaded lace. Rooney Mara brought out the girly side of goth in cutout lace and millions of fluffy ruffles. Scarlett Johansson’s Oscar de la Renta gown topped liquid silver satin with an edgier fishnet corset haphazardly draped in beaded tinsel.

Gal Gadot, Laura Dern, and Caitriona* Balfe.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Amy Sussman/Getty Images.

In September 2019, the Emmy Awards were dominated by red and pink; at the 2020 Oscars, black and pink was the color combo to watch. Gal Gadot’s head-to-toe lace was made less fussy by casual, irregular layers. Best Supporting Actress winner Laura Dern wore the only tasseled bra I’ve ever seen outside a burlesque show. On Caitriona* Balfe, a mermaid dress with a blousy overlay created a beautifully balanced silhouette.

Kaitlyn Dever, Janelle Monáe, and Rebel Wilson.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Amy Sussman/Getty Images.
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In the most competitive category of any awards show red carpet—allover sparkle—Sunday’s winners were Kaitlyn Dever in an angular, beaded bustier dress; Janelle Monáe having an Angela Abar moment in bejeweled Ralph Lauren bubble wrap; and Rebel Wilson in opulently sculpted custom Jason Wu.

Léa Seydoux, Kelly Marie Tran, and Billy Porter.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Amy Sussman/Getty Images, Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images, and Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images.

Loads of fabric went into the wonderfully puffed-up, gloriously gathered skirts of Léa Seydoux, Kelly Marie Tran, and Billy Porter. (Porter’s 24-karat feather bodice and platform boots were understated, by his standards.)

Mindy Kaling, America Ferrera, Idina Menzel, and Maya Rudolph.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Amy Sussman/Getty Images.
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On actors who wore bright, saturated colors, asymmetric draping and gathering broke up the one-tone looks. Mindy Kaling shone in a diamond collar and goldenrod, a favored color of hers. America Ferrera and Idina Menzel embraced the puff sleeve and bow trends, respectively. Maya Rudolph looked both extraordinarily glamorous and extraordinarily comfortable in her sequined caftan.

Kerri Higuchi and John Cho, George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman, and Mahershala Ali and Amatus Sami-Karim.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Amy Sussman/Getty Images and Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images.

The best trend in Sunday’s tuxes was the wrap jacket. John Cho, in a sumptuous, deep ocher, and 1917’s George MacKay wore what appeared to be double-breasted jackets without most—or all—of the buttons. Mahershala Ali’s jacket was more involved; it looked like an actual wrap dress. I look forward to seeing more creative closures on red carpet tuxedo jackets to come.

Brie Larson, Regina King, Cynthia Erivo, and Billie Eilish.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Amy Sussman/Getty Images and Robyn Beck/Getty Images.
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There was a strong showing for winter whites and neutrals this year. Brie Larson was professional-glam in structured shoulders and glittering stripes. Both Regina King (in Versace) and Cynthia Erivo wore one-strap gowns adorned with body-conscious eddies of sparkles. Billie Eilish’s heavily beaded suit and lace fingerless gloves were Chanel, in case you couldn’t tell.

Olivia Colman, Timothée Chalamet, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus*.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Amy Sussman/Getty Images and Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images.

On the moodier end of the color spectrum, three of the Oscars’ most arresting looks were in shades of dusky blue. In a new blond hairdo, Olivia Colman wore a luxurious Stella McCartney gown set off by two rodent-sized jewels that appeared as lens flares in several file photos. Julia Louis-Dreyfus* proved that a simple silk slip dress can be as striking as any ostentatious pile of ruffles and beading. In a zip-up jacket and suit pants, Timothée Chalamet wore a more formal version of the athleisure we occasionally see on the red carpet. It wasn’t a tracksuit, and it wasn’t a tuxedo. It was, I think, a traxedo! A perfect garment for the flighty and fancy Theodore Laurence.

Read more in Slate about this year’s Oscars.

Correction, Feb. 10, 2020: This post originally misspelled Caitriona Balfe’s first name and Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ last name.