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Sustainability of Red Carpet Looks in the 21st Century

The move towards sustainable red carpet looks

The pressure for celebrities to look their best at red carpet events is undeniable. It is expected, after any large red carpet event, that one of the most talked about factors is the outfits of the attending celebrities. YouTube videos with millions of views and viral Twitter posts circulate, supporting and criticising outfits.

This has contributed to celebrities’ desire for one-off, unique pieces to stand out and receive praise. The sustainability aspect of red carpet looks has also risen in importance of viewers, and therefore celebrities when choosing outfits.

Some celebrities believe the best way to stand out is through scandalous outfits. Lady Gaga’s ‘meat dress’ at the MTV VMAs in 2010 was definitely unforgettable, as it was made from raw beef meat. This was unsurprisingly met with lots of hate, particularly with vegetarians and vegans, as using a dead animal as a fashion statement was viewed as disrespectful.

The Vegetarian Society condemned the display and released a statement saying:

“Enough animals die for food and they should not be killed for stunts like this.” The Vegetarian Society

After this initial reaction, criticisms of the dress’ environmental impact also arose. The 25 pounds of beef that went into making the dress, resulted in 915,720 fossil fuel energy calories and between 45,000 and 62,500 gallons of water being used for the dress, removed from the food chain and worn once. That takes unsustainable fashion to a new level.

Thankfully many celebrities have made a more conscious effort to make their memorable red carpet looks more sustainable. These celebrities have subsequently gained praise for both their appearance and eco-friendly nature, with sustainability rising in awareness and importance for many people.

Upcycling recycled plastic outfits

The awareness of plastics harm on the environment is growing, with 300 million tonnes of plastic produced each year. Furthermore, 60% of material made into clothing is plastic, showing how prevalent a problem plastic is in the fashion industry.

This takes place through fabrics including polyester, acrylic, and nylon, with many people unaware they are even wearing unsustainable plastic clothing. These materials shed microfibres (small pieces of plastic) during wash cycles and production that can end up in the oceans.

To combat the production of unsustainable clothing for red carpet events, some celebrities have decided to wear recycled plastic outfits. At the 2016 Met Gala, Emma Watson wore a Calvin Klein outfit made from recycled plastic bottles.

All parts of the beautiful trouser gown were sustainable, including the zipper and bustier. Sustainability is highly important to Emma Watson, as she emphasised on Facebook:

“Being able to repurpose this waste and incorporate it into my gown for the Met Gala proves the power that creativity, technology, and fashion can have by working together.” Emma Watson

Additionally, she highlighted the multipurpose use of the outfit, promoting repeat wearing and against todays one-wear culture. Emma shared that she intends to re-wear individual items of the outfit, such as the trousers and bustier separately.

Also, in 2016, Lily Cole wore a Vivienne Westwood gown to the Oscars made from recycled plastic bottles. The Red Dress Green challenge by James and Suzy Amis Cameron helped inspired the environmentally friendly dress.

Similarly, in 2012, Meryl Streep wore a golden gown made from recycled plastic bottles, also part of a challenge called the Green Carpet by Livia Firth. These challenges have helped to create greater awareness of sustainable red carpet looks by involving a wide range of celebrities.

Re-wearing outfits

Avoiding the one-wear view of clothing is important since it means fewer clothes need to be made, all the more important because 10% of global carbon emissions result from the fashion industry. To reinforce that with one example, it takes 3,781 litres of water to make just one pair of jeans.

Re-wearing the same full outfit multiple times is not as common for celebrities, however, in 2020 Joaquin Phoenix did just this. Joaquin Phoenix wore the same Stella McCartney Tuxedo for the duration of the awards season in 2020 including the Oscars.

Additionally, many other famous celebrities including Victoria Beckham, Kate Moss, Kiera Knightley and Kate Middleton have all participated in re-wearing the same outfits twice to different red carpet events. Whilst being environmentally friendly, this also shows appreciation of their outfits, and the designers behind them.

This helps to tackle the stigma of wearing the same outfit multiple times, in fear of looking lazy or boring. Instead, it highlights that re-wearing clothes is not shameful and shows the benefit of investing in good quality clothes that can be kept for years, rather than participating in fast fashion. Fast fashion is often not only poorer quality items, but it produces large amounts of toxic wastewater, whilst exploiting workers.

Effects of sustainable red carpet looks

Celebrities participation in wearing sustainable outfits should help the millions of viewers to follow the trend of sustainability. Celebrities are hugely influential, and the sustainability of red carpet looks could promote and lead to positive change. Sustainable outfits could become the norm in the future.

As highlighted by Emma Watson, the power of creativity, technology, and fashion could lead to a more sustainable fashion industry.


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