You know it was a great year for fashion on the Oscars red carpet when the only thing to complain about is that there weren’t enough ball gowns.
I’m kidding! There can never be not enough ball gowns. Not only did almost every major actress opt for dresses that looked modern, comfortable, and economical in the amount of space they inhabited, but they also took some chances. And the strongest trend of the night, surprisingly, was that so many looks were covered from neck to ankle, yet still quite sexy with their lovely lace panels, narrow sleeves, and tapered waistlines.
VIDEO: 2017 Oscars Best Dressed
It’s almost as if a silhouette of the golden days of Hollywood had returned, freshened up for today’s viewers with messy or natural hairstyles, and big statement jewels (Taraji P. Henson, Jessica Biel, and Dakota Johnson, I’m looking at you.) Meanwhile, there were color stories galore—gold, for sure, but also some great black or midnight navy dresses (Taraji again, in Alberta Ferretti, Brie Larson in Oscar de la Renta, and Kirsten Dunst in Dior Haute Couture).
But we’re here to recognize the best of the night, so read on for my choices for the night’s top 10 dresses, which were surprisingly tough to choose on a night with so many winners.
1. Ruth Negga in Valentino Haute Couture
This year’s breakthrough red carpet star surpassed all expectations in a full-length custom lace gown with insets of lace, long sleeves and a high collar that hinted at a Victorian silhouette—had the Victorians been so bold as to dress in vibrant red. And Negga was clearly in a red mood, wearing a vibrant tiara and ring (Irene Neuwirth for Gemfields), platforms and a purse in matching tones.
2. Dakota Johnson in Gucci
Imagine the pressure on actors to dress for the Oscars. Wear a classic ballgown and look old-fashioned, or go bold and risk the ire of the fashion police. Well, here’s one star who gambled big and won the bank. Johnson’s covered up look is a welcome change from her Fifty Shades wardrobe, but it’s hardly chaste—a champagne satin dress with all the twists and turns you’d expect from Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele, yet one that is still rooted in red carpet history. The strong shoulder and plissé wrap front, to my eye, recall the glamour gowns of Norman Norell.
3. Isabelle Huppert in Armani Privé and Repossi jewelry
It was hardly a surprise to spot the French style icon in Armani—she and fellow nominee Nicole Kidman attended the designer’s Paris couture show on the day the nominations were announced in January. And while the elegant long-sleeves and tapered waistline of her pale, pale pink silk chiffon plissé dress are her red carpet signatures, Huppert still added a little flare with a crystal encrusted belt. (And those nails!) That’s the French version of flashy.
4. Emma Stone in Givenchy Haute Couture by Riccardo Tisci
A free agent by Hollywood’s complicated standards, or at least without a major fashion campaign with strings attached, Stone’s choice for the Oscars was the big mystery of the evening. That she went with a proven winner like Tisci is a little anti-climactic, but a nice farewell present to a designer who recently exited the house. Still, it’s a fetchingly light-and-lively dress with a combination of embroidered lace and tiers of Swarovski crystal fringe in a bronze dégradé pattern that dazzle, and echo the dangle of her Tiffany & Co. earrings.
5. Michelle Williams in Louis Vuitton
I love this black and white combination, which hits all the right notes for the evening’s trend for texture. A silk velvet halter combined with a tulle skirt embroidered with pearls, crystals, and studs offers a contrast of soft and hard that could serve as a metaphor for Williams in her nominated Manchester by the Sea role.
6. Charlize Theron in Dior Haute Couture
Theron remains true to her taste for Dior statement bodices, this year opting for a stunner in pleated gold lamé (veiled in black, per the house) from the first couture collection by artistic director Maria Grazia Chiuri. Those Chopard diamond earrings are pretty phenomenal too.
7. Viola Davis in Armani Privé
With its draped bodice and vivid vermillion tone, this sassy silk cady dress puts Davis (and her shoulders) in a fabulous light. It’s a great color—and if you’re following the fall collections taking place in Milan this week, you’ll know that Davis is one step ahead of the red trend.
8. Teresa Palmer in Prada
The prolific and wide-ranging Australian up-and-comer made a big impression with this metallic embroidered dress, fitted through the torso and fuller in the skirt. The silver sequin accents, sporty straps, satin belt, and ornamental earrings give this look a healthy dose of sparkle, without veering into the glitz brigade.
9. Naomie Harris in Calvin Klein By Appointment
A white strapless sequin dress with a midriff cutout is hardly groundbreaking, even though it’s the first big women’s look from Raf Simons to make the Oscars stage since he became chief creative officer of Calvin Klein. Clean, minimal, flawless, and a little funny with that long tail. But the news here is the shoes—sunflower suede sandals with mismatched crystal straps that make this look fresh.
10. Brie Larson in Oscar de la Renta
I’ll call this a modernized black velvet version of the Madame X dress, had John Singer Sargent thought to paint a gown in stiff peaks rather than soft folds. It’s a great red carpet debut for the new look of Oscar, which is being freshened up by the design team of Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia.