The History of the Red Carpet
The red carpet has ancient roots. It is first mentioned in the play Agamemnon, in 458 B.C. The hero’s wife lays out a red carpet for him to walk on upon his return, which he is unwilling to do, not feeling worthy as a mere mortal of walking the god’s walkway.
Since then, the red carpet has been used by royalty, country leaders and assorted dignitaries. As time wore on, celebrities could be found making their way over this fabled fabric, becoming synonymous with fame, celebrity, and the highest social events.
Then, in the late 20th century the red carpet started to become more entwined with fashion, celebrities wearing different, eye-catching outfits to make each event a little different. Red carpet events have become a place in which luxury brands can to promote their clothes through the celebrities who wear them, and much attention is paid to each outfit.
Clothes can be unusual, a place to explore the limits of what can be made, or have more conventional forms. Either way fashion at these events generates conversation about what is being worn, as well as the messages and ideas trying to be explored.
Social Media’s Influence on Red Carpet Events
The rise of internet and social media has made the red carpet more accessible to a wider audience. Now they can be streamed live to people who can immediately give their opinion and create conversations about what is being shown, and these opinions and conversations can influence others who may not have seen them. They generate debate about the fashion on display at the time, about what is in season, whether certain looks work, and how.
“Social media, where TV audiences and content creators alike can react and engage as if they were all sitting in the same living room. With their glitz, glamour and cultural relevance, award shows in particular provide the unique ingredients to marry content with conversation.” Nielson notes in their article ‘Award Shows are Big Winners on Social Media’
Social media can bring conversations around fashion to a wider audience, around new trends and lines, but also wider issues in the industry, such as fast fashion and its alternative models, and ways that fashion can help the environment.
Ethical fashion has become a new concern in recent years, which has affected how some people buy clothes and see certain brands. More and more there have been organisations and brands created or whose values have shifted to include more ethical principles. Red carpet events are especially influential in sparking these conversations.
The question is – should celebrities use the power and reach they gain from these events to draw attention to social issues?
The Red Carpet and Social Awareness
There is an argument about the appropriateness of doing so; that there is a time and place for talking about social issues and these events are not it. However, these events have reach and social importance. I would argue that they are exactly the time and place to raise them, that celebrities have power and influence and could use the audience the shows gather to create awareness though what they say, be also in their actions and choice of clothing.
Celebrities have used awareness about issues they care about in the past, such as animal rights. Right now, some celebrities are bringing attention to the conversations going on in the fashion industry about sustainability, to combat climate change. Helping to bring attention to global warning by wearing sustainable fabrics is a way to bring attention to using fashion to help the environment, as is recycling looks.
For example, re-wearing clothes is still uncommon on the red carpet, enough so that it creates headlines, such as when Joaquin Phoenix announced he would be re-wearing the same suit for the entire awards season.
Though it wasn’t just him, other celebrities also re-wore dresses and suits from events in past years. Kaitlyn Dever wore the fabric Tencel, also known as Lyocell, which is made from wood pulp. The fabric is created in a sustainable manner (the trees are from specialised trees farms), from renewable resources (produced using eco-friendly products). It is created in an environmentally conscious way, which the fashion industry is starting to shift to.
The organisation Red Carpet Green Dress trying to bring sustainability to the front of conversation in the fashion industry and Good on You a website which raises consumer consciousness by rating brands on their ethics.