As a 20-year veteran of red carpet reporting and criticism, I have had countless occasions to observe both the good and the bad – and I’m not talking about the dresses here, but rather, the media coverage that follows them. I have a deep empathy for any actor, whether or not they are paid by designers to promote this dress or that necklace, who has ever faced the wrath of the fashion police. I, too, am offended by television gimmicks like the mani-cam or camera crews that leeringly pan women from their necks to their ankles while barely glancing at the men. The business of primping for the red carpet is a strange industry, and even after all these years of purposefully pulling punches whenever possible, I cannot entirely justify the inherent cruelty of judging the best and the worst beyond the obvious fact that almost everyone seems to enjoy talking about them so much.
And yet I have found myself feeling a bit defensive of the practice in the face of plans among many actors to wear black to the Golden Globes. Designed to call attention to a pioneering action plan against sexual harassment, called Time’s Up and supported by hundreds of Hollywood professionals, the gesture is quite genius – their impressive message will undoubtedly eclipse the usual what-are-you-wearing banter on the red carpet this Sunday night. At the same time, I worry the event will resemble something of a fashion funeral, and pity the troops of stylists, designers, and celebrities who have had to make hasty adjustments in order to meet this unofficial new dress code. I’ve also heard from a few designers who fear that fashion is being punished in some sense.
But I don’t pity them all that much, really. Upon further reflection, I’m excited to see how everyone rises to meet this challenge. While I might have preferred a more positive color to rally behind (black is so dreary, don’t you think?), I get why they chose to adopt the traditional aesthetic of men’s tuxedos, highlighting the fact that hardly anyone asks male actors about what they wear to the event. And to those men who say they are wearing black to the Globes in support of the women’s movement, I say you’d go a lot further by wearing low-cut scarlet and subjecting yourself to the slings of the critics for once. Nevertheless, as far as making such a protest by using fashion at an awards ceremony goes, a full-scale black out will be immeasurably more potent than just wearing a ribbon as a reminder of a cause.
It is for this reason that I would argue it remains important to observe, to critique, and yes – to judge – what they wear on the red carpet on Sunday night. Fashion, at its very best, is a powerful tool of communication, as the creators of Time’s Up surely recognized, so I sincerely doubt anyone will use the occasion as an excuse to slack off in something boring. In fact, I expect we will see more creativity than usual, both from designers who have embraced the call and from women who do not see fashion as the enemy.
Choosing to wear black is a conscious reflection of the power of their collective voices, but each person is also an individual with a mind of her own, and presumably has something to say. To ascribe such a decision solely to a desire to take part in a movement is to underestimate the woman who wears the dress.