Prior to the pandemic, rolling out the red carpet has long been a tradition. As a prominent feature of star-studded events, the red carpet has hosted an array of VIPs. For years, the world’s media has swooned over celebs walking the red carpet’s route. Desperate to catch a glimpse of designer outfits, global press has always waited impatiently on the sidelines.
Following the introduction of new media, red carpet coverage has become a swift process. The media are constantly spoon-feeding us with live interviews and photos. We live in a hypercritical world and value our screen time far too much. Consequently, it has become easier to scrutinise celebrities for their fashion choices. This raises questions about the greater purpose of the red carpet.
How does the red carpet commodify fashion?
According to an article by Alexander Fury, a red carpet appearance is “About making money – reinforcing the brand name, perhaps selling some dresses, […]. The dresses have to be immediately identifiable. And, preferably, a talking point.” It is disheartening to think that the main purpose of the red carpet is to present fashion as a commodity.
However, this does not come as a surprise. Before the pandemic, interviewers constantly teased information from celebrities about their outfits. Pinpointing the designer and estimating how big the price tag is has long been a main priority of the media.
The brand as central to assigning value to an outfit is an outdated concept. Whilst the brand labels, the outfit, and the red carpet is a platform for advertisement – fashion and the red carpet should promote a greater cause. Innovative fashion can speak for itself upon major social and political issues, and the brand does not need to be the focal talking point.
How the red carpet can provide a voice to promote social and political change
In a BBC article, Lindsay Baker explains that “In its earliest known incarnation the red carpet was not intended for ordinary folk” and it was in the ancient Greek play Agamemnon that the King’s wife uses the red carpet “for the triumphant welcome home of her husband.”
It is clear to see that status has always determined who will walk the red carpet. Although it seems rather unfair, there is a silver lining to this.
Hopefully, red carpets will be back in business as soon as possible. This will provide stars with the opportunity to sport new fashion that can speak on behalf of social and political change. A few red carpet celebrities have taken on the role as advocates of change, working with designers on an outfit that speaks volumes. However, this has only happened on rare occasions.
If more celebrities took it upon themselves to go against the grain, the value surrounding fashion on the red carpet could change for the better. The designer’s name and who is wearing the outfit shouldn’t just determine the value of fashion. The good causes and groups that fashion is able to represent should also add considerable value to an outfit.
So, which celebrities have been advocates for social and political change?
Lady Gaga’s meat dress
At the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards, Lady Gaga was an advocate for political change in the US. At the time, the 1993 “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was still in place. The policy allowed gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans to join the military as long as they kept their sexuality concealed.
In September 2011, The Guardian reported that “More than 14,500 US service personnel have been thrown out of military service” following the policy taking effect in 1993.
Such disrespect for the LGBT community angered Gaga and she sought the help of designer Franc Fernandez. The designer designed a dress made from prime rib and plain steak. Vogue reported that Gaga’s look “Referred to a speech she made, The Prime Rib of America.”
In which, she expressed that the policy was preventing the US military from enjoying “the greatest cut of meat my country has to offer.”
Gaga did not aim to commodify fashion or to promote a brand on the red carpet. Those who held the dress in high regard appreciated what it represented. The prime cuts of meat were something that Gaga wanted to show off, just as the US military should have been proud to show off some of their best LGBT service men and women.
Gaga certainly provided a higher platform from which LGBT discrimination in the military could be confronted. A year later, in 2011, President Obama repealed the policy. It can’t be denied, Gaga’s meat dress spoke volumes and certainly contributed to the cause.
“Fight and push harder for what you believe in, you’d be surprised, you are much stronger than you think.” Lady Gaga
Billy Porter’s tuxedo-gown
Billy Porter defied gendered fashion norms at the 2019 Oscars. Porter stepped onto the red carpet in a tuxedo-gown. According to Vogue, the Christian Soriano designed dress “Challenged the rigid Hollywood dress code” and was “boundary-pushing in all the right ways.”
Porter’s outfit combined fashion which is stereotypically associated with different gender identities. He set out to create a sense of logic by demonstrating that dressing accordingly to gender identity or sex is not set in stone. There are no physical boundaries and stereotypes are social constructions. Fashion is not exclusionary if you choose not to conform.
The Guardian reported that “Over the past decade there has been a marked rise in gender-neutral clothing” and an increased number of designers “are pushing the idea that men’s and women’s clothes should be obsolete categories.” In the last few years, some big brands have committed to creating gender-neutral clothing ranges. H&M created a Gender Neutral Baby Shop and the 2020 ASOS X glaad& collection contains unisex pieces.
Porter’s tuxedo-gown helped to highlight a key social issue of today. Generation Z in particular are starting to embrace and accept the idea of gender fluidity. Voices like Porter’s are key to ensuring that younger generations are continuously educated and encouraged to be who they want to be. Those who appreciated the gown had respect for the message around fashion becoming more gender fluid.
After all, what is masculinity and femininity? Why should we conform to social constructions when we can form our own definitions of ourselves?
So… what is the greater purpose of the red carpet?
It is really important that more celebrities use the red carpet to model fashion with a message behind it. Red carpet events offer a platform from which broadcasting is vast. This creates the opportunity for good causes and groups within society to gain more recognition and support. Without a doubt, this is the greater purpose of the red carpet.
If you wish to educate yourself further on other groups which need more recognition in fashion, here is one article you might want to read.