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How The Red Carpet Fashion Has Become Political

The red carpet has become a growing platform for celebrities to express their political stance through their outfits. Fashion can serve as a visual voice that screams for the attention on social and political issues that the A-lists are eager to get recognised.

It is no surprise that the elegant gowns and dapper tuxedos are integrated with messages as they are met with hours of global coverage and create conversations extending from entertainment journalists to your next-door neighbour.

Jane Fonda had the first kick at making a political conversation on the red carpet in 1972 as she was the first women to wear an all-black suit (Yves Saint Laurent) to the Oscars to protest the Vietnam War.

I felt it suited the somber times. […] I wore something that made a statement. It was not a time for showy dresses. It was a time for seriousness. Jane Fonda

In the contemporary high-profile gala events, political stances are a driving force for many celebrities’ outfits as some make a grand entrance, while others choose to make a more subtle statement. Here are four 21st century examples that have flaunted their way across the carpet.

Time’s Up movement

Golden Globes 2018

In 2017, #metoo went viral with women speaking up about their traumatic experience of sexual violence. This fuelled more than 300 leading women in Hollywood to create the Times Up movement to focus on the misconduct within the professional realm and to become the next step to support #metoo.

The Golden Globes Awards in 2018 saw women dressed in all black including Orphan Winfrey and Meryl Steep to show solidarity to women who have spoken up about their sexual assaults and to raise awareness. Not only did we see the glamorous black gowns worn by women, but male celebrities including Ewan McGregor and Justin Timberlake wore Time’s Up pins to show their support.

The movement has continued seeing celebrities outside the red-carpet ceremonies such as Jessica Chastain wearing a shirt with the movements logo when appearing at Jimmy Kimmel Live. Although it was not as highly publicised, a year later at the Golden Globe Awards, Laura Dern had a Time’s Up ribbon as an accessory on her bag.

Playing with masculinity

Billy Porter, Oscars 2019

Fashion can be used as self-expression and to show your identity, and at the 91st Academy Awards actor and pop singer, Billy Porter, did not hold back. Designed by Christian Siriano, Porter caught everyone’s attention with his tailored tuxedo jacket on top of a voluminous velvet gown.

This pushes the boundaries on Hollywood’s expectations of the male dress code as it plays with masculinity in a feminine way to create a gender-neutral stance. Porter has explained that women wear trousers to show power, while if a man wears a dress people would be in disbelief. He has said that it wasn’t drag but that he is a ‘man in a dress’ and it shouldn’t be considered mind-blowing for a male to oppose male expectations.

A little added touch

Oscars 2017

It is not just the lavish outfits that get all the attention. Celebrities have commonly worn symbolic ribbons to share awareness of a cause such as gay rights and AIDS awareness. But the 2017 Oscars was most noticeable with celebrities including Barry Jenkins and Ruth Negga wearing blue ribbons to show support for the American Civil Liberties Union.

The organisation has for the past 100 years aimed to protect individual rights and liberties. The attention was particularly high in 2017 as celebrities opposed Donald Trump’s Muslim ban and wanted to build awareness of the work ACLU perform to combat racism and bigotry.

Environmentally conscious

Some political messages are not always recognisable until told. The fashion industry is one of the largest contributors to pollution as 85% of textiles is dumped each year as people try and keep up with fashion trends, so being sustainable has become as important as ever.

Cate Blanchett was the first red carpet celebrity to show her consideration of being sustainable by re-wearing a dress that she wore in 2004 at the Golden Globes and then again in 2018 for the Cannes Film Festival.

Other celebrities have followed suit such as Tiffany Haddish who has worn the same elegant white Alexander McQueen dress on five occasions to be more sustainable.

Many issues have already been raised through the red carpet fashion and it would be a fair prediction that we will continue to see them in the future.


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