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As Hollywood continues to reckon with sexual abuse and gender inequity in the workplace, awards season will put a spotlight (disproportionately, no doubt) on women’s style and sexuality. So what will this year’s red carpet look like?
“I’ve already started to notice it in fittings — no one wants to look sexy,” says stylist Elizabeth Stewart, who works with Cate Blanchett, Jessica Chastain and Viola Davis, expressing disappointment that anyone would censor their words or wardrobe.
Since the Harvey Weinstein scandal set off a domino effect of allegations from women in the entertainment industry and beyond, much of the fashion on the red carpet has been conservative and covered up (Chastain in a long-sleeve red Alexander McQueen gown at the Governors Awards, and Davis in a white Michael Kors angel-wing-sleeve style at the American Music Awards, for example), but for the occasional leg slit or midriff cutout. Nearly-naked dresses, for years a red carpet mainstay, have become almost extinct. “It feels like we want something more cerebral,” says stylist Zerina Akers, whose clients include Beyonce.
But others warn against falling into victim-blaming psychology when it comes to self-presentation, something that has gotten both designer Donna Karan and Murder, She Wrote star Angela Lansbury into hot water recently, after they both made controversial comments that seemed to place blame on how women present themselves. As Blanchett pointed out at October’s InStyle Awards, “We all like to look sexy, but it doesn’t mean we want to fuck you.” London designer Roland Mouret, known for his body-conscious styles, echoed that sentiment while in L.A. to court red carpet stylists. “It’s not because a woman is sexy that people try to abuse her. We don’t want to go the way of The Handmaid’s Tale.”
This red carpet season could be an opportunity for women to reclaim their sexuality, rather than hiding it in last year’s power suit, says stylist Tara Swennen, who works with Kristen Stewart and I, Tonya‘s Allison Janney. “I hope women are going to be more loud with their fashion choices.”
Some stars are already sending a message of empowerment through the designers they are wearing, in keeping with a broader trend of consumers seeking out brands that take a stand on issues. “Everyone is learning that this is a time when you can use your voice, and who you align with plays into that,” adds Swennen.
Politically outspoken designer Prabal Gurung, who featured feminist T-shirts at his February New York Fashion Week show and defended new Vanity Fair editor Radhika Jones after a fashion journalist reported staff criticisms of her workplace attire, has become a red carpet go-to for Hollywood stars in recent weeks, including Tracee Ellis Ross, who has worn two of his spring 2018 dresses on the red carpet, and praises his “message of equality, diversity and inclusion.” Says Gurung: “Women can dress however they want to, show their body or cover it; as a designer, my job is to provide options.” He adds, “Being sexy or not is an individual choice — the problem is the gaze.”
A version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 29 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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