Thus does the promise of red-carpet change that hovered over the Golden Globes only a year ago — when women took back their wardrobes for the night — get squandered.
The co-host Sandra Oh, in an emotional moment during the opening set of the awards show on Sunday, said she could see “change” by looking around the ballroom. But during the dress parade that is the celebrity entrances, it was mostly back to business on the fashion front. And I mean that literally.
The red carpet is a marketing machine, pairing stars and brands to optimum mutually beneficial effect. Last year, the collective decision by women to wear black in honor of the Time’s Up movement, which aims to address systemic inequality and injustice in the workplace, changed the equation if not the players. It had power because it felt personal, a quality that has been largely leeched from the contemporary red carpet, where what to wear — that most close-to-the-body decision — has generally been transformed into a business arrangement. It raised the stakes beyond advertising to advocacy, suggesting the moment could be used for more than just moneymaking. Yet 12 months later, it’s still a promise, not a reality.
Unlike last year, there was no mention in the post-appearance news releases sent out by the brands of any dress-related donations to nonprofits or other causes. Indeed, the endorsement machine is apparently back in full force, from the jewels (now among the most lucrative deals to be had) to the bags, shoes and — this is a new one — skin care.
Really. Aren’t you glad to know that Laura Dern used Skyn Iceland to “prep her skin before the red carpet,” as an email that I received shortly after said?
Despite some rousing speeches from the podium (see Regina King and Glenn Close), most of the messaging — #TimesUpx2 — was relegated to the usual pins and bracelets. While it’s a good thing the movement was there at all, it’s also impossible not to see that as a retreat.
To be sure, there were some positive trends. Julia Roberts wore the pants, in black Stella McCartney cigarette trousers under a nude tulle top with train. White was the biggest color of the night, whether Ms. Oh’s Winged Victory Versace gown (she later changed twice), Julianne Moore’s Givenchy, or the tuxes of Bradley Cooper (in Gucci) and Chadwick Boseman (also Versace).
Ever since Hillary Clinton wore a white pantsuit at the Democratic National Convention in 2016, that color generally has been taken as a sign of suffragist solidarity at pretty much every event that isn’t a wedding. In case anyone forgot, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez brought it up again last week when she was sworn in to the House of Representatives. So it’s hard not to think some of that symbolism went into these choices. But it was implicit, rather than explicit.
(White was rivaled only by green, on Idris Elba, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michelle Yeoh, among others, which was either a sign of new beginnings or, as some posited on social media, ka-ching. Optimism or cynicism? Maybe both.)
More provocative were the bondage straps that wound around the exposed waists of Rosamund Pike in Givenchy and Thandie Newton in Michael Kors, as if to suggest all stars are at the mercy of the red carpet rules.
Well, not all: Neither Dolce & Gabbana, recently under fire for marketing videos that were widely interpreted as racist in China, nor Marchesa, the brand of Harvey Weinstein’s former wife, benefited from the night.
Yet as they chafe against the demands of the carpet, they still seem conflicted about fighting it — which may explain the fantasy Valkyrie armor donned by Emily Blunt (actually Alexander McQueen), the frumpy Egyptian-royalty look of Janelle Monáe (Chanel) and the I-am-woman-hear-me-roar leopard of Anne Hathaway (Elie Saab).
Animal prints aren’t usually a red carpet thing — for years, conventional wisdom suggested prints didn’t play well on TV — which made Ms. Hathaway’s choice a pretty unexpected one. Along with Lady Gaga’s decision to match her hair to her periwinkle cloud of a Valentino ball gown, complete with matching detachable sleeves, it was one of few fashion surprises of the night. If Ms. Hathaway also seemed as if she had wandered in from some other awards show on the Nature Channel, at least it livened things up.
Still, that kind of fun-with-fashion approach was left largely to the men, who seemed disinclined to play by the old rules. Instead there was color (Mr. Elba, Spike Lee in purple Versace), print (Darren Criss’s floral jacket), drama (Billy Porter’s bejeweled Randi Rahm cape lined in bright pink silk), gender fluidity (Cody Fern) and just plain old weirdness.
As an example, see Timothée Chalamet’s “embroidered bib” by Louis Vuitton, a choice that was perhaps supposed to be a cool modern variation on a vest, but that mostly resembled a deconstructed parachute harness.
At least it was a talking point. In the absence of any greater point, that may be the next best thing.