Pity Imelda Staunton. And Hilary Swank. And the Kates Winslet and Blanchett. This has got to be one of the most harrowing weeks of their lives. You’d be worried, too: Whatever these gifted women wear on Sunday night, they’ll be discussed and dissected, embraced or rejected, by millions of TV-watching Mrs. Grundys ready to pour a steaming bucket of ridicule over their pretty heads if they dare to dress like a swan and carry an egg purse.
Bjork’s avian fantasia was our favorite Oscar get-up of all time, though the reaction brought us back to the legions of fellow students yelling “Yaeger sucks” down our high school corridors as we paraded around in outfits we thought was just ducky. (Or swan-y, as the case may be.)
Alas, the joy of dressing oneself up for a special televised night is all but lost. This business of hiring a professional stylist (and who gave these people credentials anyway?) has just about eradicated the fun of indulging one’s own quirky taste. Add to this the practice of brazenly showing up in borrowed jewelry, which turns millionaire actresses into craven, huckstering Cinderellas ready to plug bauble companies in exchange for freebees. (Ugly secret: Actresses are sometimes paid just to wear this stuff, and they also get hard cash for going to fashion shows.)
Still, in truth, dumping the stylist and following your own path is hard, hard, hard. Flashbulbs can render a decent frock transparent (viz. Alexandra Kerry at the Cannes film festival); a gorgeously embellished dress (Uma’s exquisite LaCroix last year) can turn you into Heidi for the cameras.
Though our own girlhood dreams of Oscar triumph—Best Screenplay! Best Costumes!—have yet to pan out, we like to think we’d really go for broke. As it stands, there are any number (OK, maybe two) fashion events a year that we have to get all dolled up for, and when they come around, we tend to wear the same frock—a deconstructed silk peasant-cavewoman smocked dress by Gary Graham—that we’ve trotted out for years.
So many years, that we began to think recently of breaking out something new. So we took a stroll through an uptown department store, but were distressed to see that evening gowns appear to fall into categories—mother of the bride and Donatella slut—with a surprising amount of overlap between the two groups. We ran shrieking to another, goofier floor where an enormous black and silver tutu caught our eye. Yes, we could wear this with leggings! And ballet slippers! (No horrible heels for us.) Still, the price was ridiculous and there was that problem of what to wear on top—a gray cashmere cardigan, our usual solution, being a little déclassé for the occasion. And then of course there was the ridiculous price. Perhaps we should go to the second floor Capezio on Broadway at 51st Street and see if they have a tutu? (Of course the last time we stopped in, vicious little girls and their moms were yanking toe shoes out of boxes with such ferocity we ran screaming from there, too.)
Still, one thing is certain: Coco Chanel, who was so right about so many things, was dead wrong when she said, referring to the reception that particularly outré get-ups receive on the street: “Those who laugh are always right.”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 22, 2005