Emmys Flashback: When Stars Styled Themselves for the Red Carpet

7:00 AM 9/14/2017

by Jane Carlson

Before an army of Hollywood designers glammed up TV's Big Night, talent was eager to show off individual flair — from Velvet leopard prints and Western-inspired suits to neon kicks.

Rosie O'Donnell, Cybill Shepherd and Katie Holmes -Getty -One Time Use Only-Getty-H 2017
Ron Galella/WireImage; ABC Photo Archives/Getty Images; Frank Trapper/Corbis via Getty Images

Blame the glam slam that is now the Emmys on January Jones, who wore white Atelier Versace in 2009. "Mad Men had such a fashion impact, and designers in Europe were watching the show," says L.A.'s Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising Museum spokesman Nick Verreos. Before that Versace (and a couple of Chanel couture stunners worn by Sarah Jessica Parker for Sex & the City), stars were freer to express wackier takes on fashion. Says Cybill Shepherd of wearing orange Reeboks on the red carpet in 1985: "I have extremely wide, Kleenex-box feet. I looked at my orange high-tops and my assistant said, 'Cybill, don't even think about it.' When I walked in, half the women were jealous of how comfortable I was, and the other half loved me for being honest with my body."

According to Mandy Moore’s stylist Erica Cloud, the last five years saw social media kicking up the glam factor another notch. Stars used to “have a little more fun without the fear of the image being blasted,” says Cloud. “I miss it.” Stylist Erin Walsh (who counts Kerry Washington and Maggie Gyllenhaal as clients) agrees that actors and actresses must now maintain a carefully crafted image at all times: “People are much more likely to try and take advantage of this platform to ‘brand’ their image, and as a consequence, are probably less likely to experiment.” 

Prestige TV has also played a role. “When stylists started helping [stars on the red carpet], the European designers thought the Emmys weren’t important. But now all of these series are international because of streaming and everybody can watch Game of Thrones. Then it’s like, ‘Yes! Let me dress her!’” Adds Cloud: “Designers are taking notice and realize the market value of such a wide audience.”

Today it is almost unheard of for even rising talent to attend the Emmys without a full glam squad weighing in to mitigate the risk of looking off-brand. “Instead of looking individual, you might just risk looking messy,” says Walsh, who still emphasizes the importance of experimenting on the carpet. “I am a firm believer in taking risks, even if solely for the reason of not making an army of red carpet mannequins.” 

A version of this story first appeared in the Sept. 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

  • Rosie O'Donnell

    The comic actress presented in 1992 wearing velvet pants and a leopard-print top and cap.

  • Howie Mandel

    In 1986, his red tailcoat and neon sneakers drew comparisons to a valet.

  • Jane Fonda

    The Dollmaker winner's blue eye shadow and big hair were focal points of this 1984 look.

  • Katie Holmes

    In 1998, the Dawson's Creek breakout proved she was the epitome of a teen queen with a prom-like dress for her first Emmys carpet.

  • Cyndi James Reese

    The soap actress sported blue from head to toe complete with indigo eye shadow, a sparkly top and a butterfly-print duster, in 1987.

  • Cybill Shepherd

    Reebok sales soared after the actress paired orange high-tops with a black dress and gloves in 1985.

  • Robert Duvall

    The nominee channeled his Lonesome Dove character in a Western-inspired getup in 1989.


  • Heather Locklear

    The T.J. Hooker star covered up in a turtleneck dress and jacket in 1984.

  • David Duchovny

    The X-Files star wore a pastel suit with a metallic wallpaper-like design in 1995.

  • Tracey Ullman

    In 1988, the funny lady rocked a colorful skirt and jacket with a matching bow tucked into her full perm.

  • Markie Post

    The Night Court star made a splash in a low-cut ruffled jumpsuit with illusion netting at the 1987 ceremony.

  • Christina Applegate

    A cobalt suit with shoulder pads was the picture of late-'80s chic.

  • Ellen Burstyn

    In 1987, the Pack of Lies nominee accessorized her brightly colored ensemble with a pile-on of opalescent gems and a gold purse.

  • Julie Brown

    In 1990, the MTV personality wore an off-shoulder cocktail dress with panty hose, dangling earrings and a black felt bowler. 

  • Holly Hunter

    She accepted her trophy for a TV movie in 1993 in a lace dress and velvet beret.

  • Lady Gaga, Kerry Washington and Sarah Paulson

    Recent Emmy red carpets show an increase in the glam factor (from left). Lady Gaga wore Brandon Maxwell and Kerry Washington donned Marc Jacobs in 2015, while Sarah Paulson stunned in custom Prada in 2016.