This year’s high-profile Oscar fashions disappoint on the red carpet

The red carpet, although now highly regarded for its tanorexic and over-blinged splendor, is fascinating considering its development into a global phenomenon. The tradition began in 483 BC when King Agamemnon returned home from the Trojan War to walk on a crimson path in the same fashion as the gods. This gratifying gesture later manifested itself as a hospitable convenience used to usher the affluent jet-set to and from their luxury trains, cars, yachts or private jets.

Now, the “red-carpet treatment” has become synonymous with showcasing the beauty of actors during internationally viewed spectacles for the celebrity-crazed crowd. The Academy Awards have long been red carpet central: Fashion fans wait eagerly to see what film stars wear to this major event. However, the classic Hollywood glam that once was so prevalent at the Oscars has vanished along with the talent of the majority of its walkers.

In theory, the Academy Awards are supposed to honor true artistic talent. Commemorating the finest work of an industry enjoyed by so many should be an extravagant affair, but what was once a private and lavish repast is now a circus of people trying to outshine the cherished golden statuette himself. This year’s red carpet parade was hauntingly reminiscent of a really bad ’80s prom. One might speculate that the invitations stated in fine print that the more mermaids, greased hair and tulle at the event, the better. The stars executed this request as unerringly as they would any computer-generated sitcom script.

There were very few actors who actually looked like royalty at the Academy Awards this year. However, Dev Patel and Freida Pinto, the two stars of 2008’s “it” movie “Slumdog Millionaire,” both looked ravishing. Patel kept it classic with a black-and-white tux, while Pinto wore a stunningly demure, royal-blue Galliano dress adorned with delicate beading detail. Pinto’s dress was essentially the couture version of a traditional Indian dress in its most elegant form.

Taking a night off from their perfect life, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie epitomized the classic Hollywood glamour that is seriously lacking in modern Tinseltown. Jolie’s modest black, strapless Elie Saab gown drew all the attention to her beautiful face (and sympathetic smile when Jennifer Aniston floundered on stage, accompanied by Jack Black).

While most would look horrid in wedding-esque, layer-cake frocks, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona’s” (2008) Penelope Cruz — who could doubtless make a burlap sack look gorgeous — was fetching in her vintage Balmain dress. John Legend’s mocha-hued tux was refreshing and handsome, while Kate Winslet’s YSL gown was as alluring as the actress herself. The always-reliable fashion darling Natalie Portman was pretty in pink in Rodarte, and Anne Hathaway’s fashionable lessons from Runway were evident in her radiant, white-crystaled Armani Privé gown. Other than these select show-stoppers, the red carpet as a whole was swarming with ensemble-challenged stars.

The rest of the glossy lot had poorly advised stylists; the results made the red carpet perhaps the best unintentional advertisement for David’s Bridal and bad boob jobs in the history of broadcasted events.

Miley Cyrus tried desperately to shed her doomed Disney image and wear a grown-up gown, but her sparkly-white tiered dress, better suited for an adult starlet of merit, was most evocative of Wal-Mart tinsel Christmas decorations on clearance. Zac Efron’s overly lubed hair was upstaged by Vanessa Hudgens’ also age-inappropriate Marchesa black flowered mermaid gown. She said that “she felt like Audrey Hepburn” that evening, but surely Holly Golightly’s classic little black dress would have never included a mesh fishtail.

One would think that a woman with legs insured for $2.2 million could afford a dress with adequate fabric, but Heidi Klum proved that idea wrong with her sharp, angled Roland Mouret frock, reminiscent of Miley’s forlorn, home-schooled craft project.

The evening’s worst-dressed was a lady that we all know and love, Beyoncé. Her curve-hugging, black satin House of Deréon dress with gold leaves painted down the middle was so awful, even Barack Obama couldn’t possibly have given it hope. Naturally, she redeemed herself with a sensational performance during the show, but fashion-forward divas may not be inclined for forgive her wardrobe choice in the near future.

Oscar-wise, the big winners of the night were the stars of “Slumdog Millionaire,” Penelope Cruz, Kate Winslet and Sean Penn; they also happened to be the best-dressed. A bit of advice to future nominees: Speak multiple languages, carry an inspiring message, and wear a French dress. You will most likely go home with a prize more tangible than the hearts of the stylish set.