The publicity that accompanies any major red carpet event such as the Oscars, Grammy Awards, Met Gala and so on, naturally calls for the attention of the public eye. What more of an apt opportunity to show support for a social cause than in front of thousands of people and cameras? Almost guaranteeing a feature on the headlines the next day (or maybe even start trending on Twitter if you’re really lucky)?
The question remains, does politics really belong on the carpet or is it too problematic?
The meat dress
Let’s take a trip down memory lane to where it all began…the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards where Lady Gaga’s infamous ‘meat dress’ was introduced to the world. Ah, good times. This seemingly bizarre costume, has since become a defining moment in red carpet history for the popstar. ‘Lady Gaga meat dress’ is now within the top five Google search results for the singer.
However, what many may not know is that Lady Gaga was not just showcasing a quirky outfit. She wore the dress in protest against the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy introduced by the U.S. military. This aimed to prevent openly LGBTQ individuals from joining. Lady Gaga wore her meat dress to symbolise her response in her speech: ‘The Prime Rib of America’.
“Equality is the prime rib of what we stand for as a nation. And I don’t get to enjoy the greatest cut of meat that my country has to offer. Are you listening?” Lady Gaga
Lady Gaga’s poignant statement against the policy made her look go down in red carpet history. Paving the way for a future of activism on the carpet. Which many celebs have followed on with since.
Saying no to the gendered dress-code
The past decade has seen countless celebs break outside the gendered fashion norms. There have been some ground-breaking outfits in protest. One of the most iconic looks being Billy Porter’s tuxedo gown he wore to the Oscars in 2019. His look proceeded to ‘break the internet’.
The outfit consisting of a traditional tailored tuxedo jacket over a bell skirt, which so brilliantly tampered with the lines between masculinity and femininity. This moment marked Porter as the first man to wear a dress on the Oscars red carpet. His choice of outfit reflected Porter coming to terms with his queer identity. He most certainly managed to fulfil his goal of becoming a walking piece of political art that evening.
“I should have worn this ****ing dress 20 years ago.” Billy Porter
The question is though, would Billy’s dress have received the same response 20 years ago? Probably not. The level of support his daringly androgynous look generated marks a shift in progress in the acceptance of gender fluid fashion. The red carpet can definitely be held accountable for facilitating such a positive response.
Evan Rachel Wood’s androgynous Golden Globes look in 2018 was another show stopper. She wore a custom Altuzarra suit with Jimmy Choo Heels. Wood claims her choice of a suit was not a protest against wearing dresses, but rather to provide an example to young girls that it being yourself is enough.
The emphasis on not being placed inside boxes and worry about whether you are ‘allowed’ to wear something because of your sexuality or gender.
“I made a promise to myself that I would wear a suit to every awards show this year. Not to protest dresses, but to let young girls and women know that they are not a requirement.” Evan Rachel Wood
The way Wood used her voice and position to make a stand that it is okay to be yourself and fashion should not restrict self-expression but should rather aid it. In my eyes, is still a political stand (maybe a bit more subtle than Lady Gaga) but is one which is still deeply impactful.
The 2017 Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG) Awards saw couple Simon Helberg and Jocelyn Towne express their solidarity with protesters against Trump’s travel ban. Whilst Helberg held a sign reading “Refugees welcome”, Towne had “Let them in” written across her chest.
What is most powerful about this outfit is the simplicity of it yet that does not undermine its impact. They both retained a serious expression throughout the night, meaning that any photographs taken allowed the words to do the talking.
So, does politics belong on the carpet?
The most obvious yet not necessarily most agreeable answer is, yes. Firstly, living in a world where fashion dominates social, economic, and political landscapes it is inevitable, dare say, essential, for politics to play a role in fuelling the looks on the red carpet.
Not to say it does not come with its problems. For example, representing brand names, events, and designers can come with a cost if the individual is making a controversial statement. And secondly, it is an integral part of the industry.
It is what maintains fashion as expressive, representative, and relevant within today’s society. Which is why the two go hand in hand.