Inspirational and aspirational fashion at the 2021 Oscars

Graphic by Derin Savasan

Hollywood is back. The Oscars are back. And the red carpet is most certainly, definitely, undeniably back.  

The Academy Awards, where celebrities usually line up for what seems like miles to show off their custom high-fashion atelier house gowns or tuxedos from up-and-coming designers, were held this year on April 25. This year, however, only about 170 people were granted the honor of attending in person, as even the golden lights of Hollywood are not immune to the lurking threat of COVID-19. Thus, the pressure was on for designers and attendees alike to stun, wow and create a memorable Oscars “moment.” This challenge was, of course, met in true Tinseltown fashion.  

The color of the evening was surprisingly not traditional Oscars gold, although Leslie Odom Jr. (nominated for best original song) and Carey Mulligan (nominated for best actress in a leading role) both stunned in glittery, golden ensembles. Odom Jr.’s monochrome-gilded Brioni three-piece looked fantastic next to his wife and plus one for the evening, Nicolette Robinson, who wore a black, off-the-shoulder gown from Lebanese designer Zuhair Murad. Mulligan wore Valentino couture; her low-cut bandeau top effortlessly connected to a high-waisted, floor-length skirt with plenty of drama. Andra Day (nominated for best actress in a leading role) wore gold as well — probably the best out of the three, in a slinky metal contraption made custom by Vera Wang that turned heads immediately. The asymmetrical design swung down from one shoulder to a carefully draped bodice that in turn dripped into a trailing skirt, all made from the same golden chainmail. Questlove, the DJ for the evening, showed up in gold Crocs to complement his black suit and mask. Make of this what you will. 

In an interesting turn, red dominated the lineup this year, with Amanda Seyfried (nominated for best actress in a supporting role) absolutely destroying in an Armani ballgown. The strapless scarlet tulle dipped into a low V-neckline and then exploded out into a skirt that was more than wide enough to ensure social distancing standards. Add to that an old Hollywood twist for hair and simplistic makeup, and you have one of the best looks of the night. Angela Bassett’s brighter red column dress by Alberta Ferretti, with matching clutch and shoes, also brought some classic glamour to the carpet. The dress had a giant bow on the back that doubled as wide, puffed sleeves, with the tail end of the bow dripping down the back and becoming a short train that screamed elegance. 

Reese Witherspoon (presenting one of the awards) wore Christian Dior; her burgundy and crimson-pleated sheath dress unfortunately was not as big of a hit, and instead made her look a little matronly or like she was going to prom in the early 2000s. Laverne Cox also stunned in a deep pink — not technically red, but her Christian Siriano multi-layered peplum ballgown was so vibrant that it came very close. Cox’s look was one of these aforementioned Oscars “moments” — the dress was made from an insane amount of tulle and was worth every yard, as the movement was incredible.  

Masks barely touched the red carpet. This feels like an odd choice, considering that the pandemic is still going strong, although it is likely that most celebrities are already fully vaccinated. Additionally, attendees were asked to wear masks when not on camera. However, Hollywood missed some fantastic opportunities here to create matching mask-and-gown sets like those seen at the Grammys earlier this year.

One honorable mention for the evening goes to Zendaya. Half the world is already head over heels for the ex-Disney starlet (now Hollywood superstar) and the neon yellow Valentino couture she showed up in, with a midriff-baring cutout, matching heels and dripping silver jewelry, safely secured the other half. Margot Robbie also wowed with some new bangs and a sleek, silvery Chanel trumpet dress — the sweetheart neckline and thin straps made the floral pattern fresh, not overdone like flowers can sometimes feel. The reflective material on her dress shone under the lights. The singer H.E.R. took the cake, however, with a (buckle your seatbelts) Prince-inspired, entirely matching, cobalt-beaded jumpsuit, cape and heels setup by Dundas that simply wins everything. She also won the award for best original song alongside Tiara Thomas, whose feathered and deconstructed white three-piece by Jovana Louis was truly elegant while simultaneously crisp and new. 

Although many stars astounded with their looks, H.E.R., winner of best original song, was the best dressed of the night.