Consider each annual award season—beginning with the Golden Globes in January and ending with March’s Academy Awards—a series of events that unfold to reveal that moment’s updated definition of glamour. Is it tough, sinewy, close to the vest? Camp? Understated, in deference to dramatic world affairs? A high stakes game of flexing access to just-off-the-runway hit dresses? Or simply a celebration of hot pink?
All these trends have dominated at various times over the past decade or so. And they are important beyond telling us the seemingly meaningless facts that every stylist thought of bustiers this year!, or whatever. Red carpet trends aren’t merely trends, after all; they’re the ultimate embodiment of America’s fashion values, which are almost always nestled at the nexus of the two topics upon which every American believes themselves to be an expert: fame and beauty.
Last night’s Globes red carpet seemed to be a mandate that movie stars are still movie stars, and even if Hollywood, struggling to get moviegoers back into theaters, doesn’t feel so much like Hollywood anymore, it can still put on the right costume and say the right lines. It can still hit the marks of sequins and sparkle, of long-eyelashed women smiling coyly in statuette-like gowns. If this look feels conservative, so be it. There is a spirit of old-fashioned Hollywood chutzpah, of putting on a show for the tired folks at home. Perhaps we’ve earned it after camp overload, which began percolating just before the 2019 Met Gala bonanza and then exhausted itself until everyone seemed to be wearing chicken feathers and squawking that it was chic. (Maybe Michelle Williams, having a bit of fun in a wobbly cotton puff ivory Gucci, was the one camp attendee at this year’s Globes, but she is usually so streamlined that I enjoyed the wink.)
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Even Billy Porter played it safe; his pink velvet gown certainly looked familiar, and that’s because, as he told Today, it was “an homage”—to the dress he wore to the Oscars in 2019, which was also a velvet tuxedo gown designed by Christian Siriano. When camp is no longer in, the only thing to do is treat a dress from four years ago like it’s serious vintage. (That’s camp!)
Last night’s standout looks—women looking confident, satisfied, pleased, alive to the possibilities of the clothing on their figures—were fitted (no full skirts or mermaid silhouettes here!), sequined, sleek, and well-jeweled. Angela Bassett, who won for Best Actress in a Supporting Role in Any Motion Picture for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, undoubtedly owned the evening. Her dress, by Pamella Roland, was a halter neck silver dress with a subtle vertical sequin pattern that almost made it look like chainmail or retrofuturist cable knit. It moved with clingy intimacy. Sometimes, a dress that skims the body feels declaratively personal: glitter for you, form-fitting for me. Jennifer Coolidge, legitimately smoldering in an off-the-shoulder Dolce & Gabbana long-sleeved sheath (with the Monica Vitti hair of Tanya McQuoid’s dreams!), seemed to tell us this too.
Many of the evening’s best looks were worn by stars over 50. In addition to Bassett and Coolidge, there was Sigourney Weaver, in one of the best Saint Laurent celebrity dressing moments we’ve gotten over the past year. (And that’s saying something—they’ve got Hailey Bieber on their side!) The black silk dolman sleeve dress seemed to pull together into beautiful drape that met under a black blossom at the bust, creating a shape that was sort of blasé-fabulous, a feeling of casual but turbo-charged chic that Saint Laurent creative director Anthony Vaccarello has mastered over the past several seasons. Then there was Michelle Yeoh, in a yowza strapless Armani Privé dress that was covered with both sequins and rhinestones, which made the dress look something like shimmering oil suspended in water. It was a winner’s dress, and indeed she took home the prize for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy for Everything Everywhere All At Once.
If there were surprises, they came in the form of what didn’t happen. Given the fervor around vintage fashion—sorry dahling, archival—I expected a ton of deep pulls from, say, John Galliano-era Dior, or Karl Lagerfeld-era Chanel, or some humdinger Valentino. But the only archival biggie was E!’s red carpet host, Laverne Cox, in a Spring 2007 John Galliano juiced-periwinkle jersey gown snaked with gold sequins that conjured the usual if trite Galliano-isms (Deco, fin-de-siècle Paris, 1980s nightclub chintziness).
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Nor did we see any of those impressive hot-off-the-runway moments, like Zendaya wearing a Loewe gown just days after it debuted on the Paris runway in 2021 (or days before it appeared on the runway, as she did last fall). Those are important, in case you’re wondering, because they tell us what brands have cred in the universe of designer-nutty Hollywood stylists, and create a sort of scripted-reality bridge between the runway dream and real life.
The exception was Letitia Wright, stunning in a dress from Prada’s Spring 2023 collection: a watery expanse of warm-but-imperious orange blotted over white silk. I loved how light and sensuous and crisp the gown looked—a mood that’s tough to strike at an event like this and make an impression.
Another semi-exception: Margot Robbie, in a pale pink Chanel dress reworked from the Fall 2022 couture collection. Again: streamlined, classic, no-nonsense, nice sparkly dazzle right at the halter. Robbie’s stans rebel on Twitter when she wears Chanel, but, like Kristen Stewart, I think she carries off Virginie Viard’s perpetually lowkey clothes with personality, like she’s swishing around in a primly girly fantasy. (Barbiecore, but make it not annoying.)
There was one genuinely original look, and that was House of the Dragon actor Emma D’Arcy, wearing an oversized tuxedo jacket with a floppy rosette and a pair of trousers with a skirt panel, a bespoke take on an Acne Fall 2023 menswear look. D’Arcy had on little sparkly, pointy boots and blue leather gloves that picked up the shade of their choppy hairdo, and described the look to E! thus: “The vibe is like a child piano prodigy and maybe the recital’s not gone well.” So awesome. It was a rare red carpet instance in which the wearer’s style was so clear and creatively articulated that you felt like they looked genuinely comfortable and inspirational.
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The other missing factor? A number of the entertainment industry’s leading fashion lights. We didn’t see Zendaya, who started several of the red carpet trends of years past in conjunction with her stylist Law Roach. Nor did we get a Cate Blanchett appearance, which is a disappointment considering the creative way that her stylist, Elizabeth Stewart, has helped her channel the inimitable wardrobe of Lydia Tár offscreen (call it…her Tár Power? Yuk yuk yuk!) and has encouraged the star to rewear and re-work previous red carpet looks, which is an honestly revolutionary concept. No Lady Gaga, either, and it almost seemed as though we wouldn’t get the Rihanna appearance we were promised until—ah, there, seated next to boyfriend A$AP Rocky, she perched in custom Schiaparelli, having skipped the red carpet! (Chic!!!) The look, in the words of the press release: “a black velvet bustier dress with silk jersey drapé with a voluminous stole in black bonded silk velvet.” Quite old Hollywood to wear a fitted black strapless gown and cape, except Rihanna didn’t merely look like a vintage star. With the strangely enormous wrap and fabulous spitcurl updo hair, she put her own futurist Rihanna spin on a look we thought we knew too well. Maybe there is a little celebrity ingenuity left in Hollywood!
This article originally appeared on Harper’s BAZAAR US.