Looking forward to Sunday’s 86th Academy Awards, InStyle's Editor-at-Large Hal Rubenstein dishes to Time.com on some of the Oscar dresses that turned heads and blazed new trails in fashion in years past. Every year at the Oscars, actresses walk the red carpet looking to make a forever positive impression, but only a small number of gowns have had a lasting impact on both Hollywood and fashion history. From Grace Kelly's splendorous silk gown designed by Edith Head that she wore in 1995 to Jennifer Lawrence's body-hugging, red Calvin Klein dress from 2011, the Oscars have produced some of the world's most famous and jaw-dropping gowns of all time.
However fascinated we are with Oscar dressing, Rubenstein says they could use a bit more flair. "What are the Oscars missing these days? Cher! It's really that simple," Rubenstein says. "We long for a woman who has that sense of flamboyance, the humor, the wit, the in-your-face drama that Cher just embodies." Her Bob Mackie designed ensemble that she wore to the 1996 Oscars stole the show, and she made her mark on history. "The red carpet is really about familiar glamour. The glamour that we're used to, the glamour we were brought up with from the movies," states Rubenstein. When actresses do something odd or different, viewers are shocked, as was the case with Cher and Tilda Swinton's asymmetrical Lanvin gown from 2008 that threw everyone for a loop.
Dresses that walk the red carpet can have a major impact on the success of a design house, but Rubenstein suggests that we forget how much the right dress can shape the career of an actress. "We overlook the impact a dress might have on a little known actress who is wearing a fantastic gown," Rubenstein says. For example, at the 79th Academy Awards, Keira Knightley strode out in a burgundy taffeta Vera Wang ball gown, and the then little-known actress became a sensation by the next morning, and her career took a huge leap forward. From shocking looks to haute couture creations, check out all of Rubenstein's thoughts on revolutionary Oscar fashion in the video above!
Then, tune in to the Oscars this Sunday, March 2nd on ABC at 7PM EST/4PM PST, and stay set to InStyle.com as the night goes on for all the up-to-the-moment red carpet updates.
Want more Oscar dresses? See what the best actress winners of the past 20 years wore in our gallery.
In the last decade, fascination with Oscar dressing may have outstripped interest in the Oscars themselves. It's what we remember the morning after, and possibly sometimes years after that because not all Oscar dresses are created the same. So we're gonna look at the ones that we remember, because they shocked. Because they intrigued, because they were awed, weird, or maybe just plain beautiful. At the Pantages Theater in Hollywood- If there is one dress that's considered to be the classic, ultimate Oscar dress, the template for Oscar dresses of all time, it's Edith Head's aquamarine strapless gown. That she designed for Grace Kelly in 1955, when Grace won the Oscar for The Country Girl. It's very simple, very classic and has been knocked off so many times, it's been the inspiration for Ralph Lauren when he designed the pink satin dress for Gwenyth Paltrow. [MUSIC] When she won the Academy Award for Shakespeare In Love, Kim Basinger wanted to wear a copy of the dress done by Escada in 1977, when she won her Oscar. The odd thing about the dress, the reason why we know the dress so well, was not because of the photograph that was taken on Oscar night [MUSIC] Oddly enough, Grace wore the dress three times, which would be unheard of in this day and age. She wore it to the opening of the Country Girl. She wore it to the Oscar night, when she, when she won the Oscar. And she also wore it in the studios of Philippe Halsman, who photographed her, in that now very famous photo for Life Magazine. [MUSIC] If you look at the pink sequin tank dress that Gwyneth Paltrow wore to the Oscars in 1996, it looks familiar, wonderful, lovely, but why the big deal? Because in 1996, people were dressing big for the Oscars. Big dresses, lots of embroidery, lots of finery. Boom. Remember booming economy, booming dresses. Here comes this willowy, beautiful blonde woman, nobody really knows well, basically is Brad Pitt's girlfriend, and shows up in a dress of such simplicity, such ease, such sort of lanky sexuality, she suddenly made everybody look old. And, and the tank dress. So they became the kind of gowns a cool girl would wear. Everybody knows the name Prada these days. It is a fashion global blockbuster, but in 1995 it was the company that made nylon knapsacks with the triangle label. How do you change that image, how do you make people realize you're also a fashion house, Oscar night. Uma Thurman, 1995, like a lavender angel coming down the red carpet, all in Bazar and Chiffon and Willoughby. The dress, oddly enough, wasn't really designed by Mia Prada, nevertheless, that was the label in the dress. Uma was at her most statuesque, most beautiful, most exotic. She was on every cover the next day, and suddenly the house of Prada was. The fashion. [MUSIC] What are the Oscars missing these days? Cher. It's really that simple. We long for a woman who has that sense of flamboyance. The spectacular. The humor. The wit. The in-your-face drama. That Cher embodied when she walked down that red carpet. Never, never better than in 1986. In 1986, Cher had a breakthrough performance in the film Mask. But she didn't get nominated for the Academy Award, and she was ticked. And it was also the same year that Edith Head, the great costume designer had issued a sort of dress code. That once you dress as befitting, an Oscar nominee or presenter, which naturally prompted Cher to show up in a black huge mohawk, a bare midriff, a, a cut bikini top, and black sheer sequins going all the way down. Bob Mackey designed it for her and when she put it on, she, he said oh no, you're really not gonna wear that and she said. Damn right I am. As you can see, I did receive my Academy booklet on "How to Dress Like a Serious Actress." The myth is that the Oscars are the biggest fashion show in the world. Not true. When we go to a fashion show, what we're looking for is innovation, fresh ideas- New concepts. The red carpet is really about familiar glam, the glamour that we're used to, the glamour that we were brought up with from the movies. Do something odd, do something different, something tilted just a little bit. And viewers get shocked, they get weirded about, out about it. Never more so than when Tilda Swinton. Who doesn't look, sound or move like anybody else. Showed up at the Oscars in an asymmetrical one shoulder black velvet gown from Albera Vez long down. The asymmetry, the drape, the tasset like quality of this dress was totally unlike anybody else, it wasn't body conscious it had. Ridiculous fluidity. She has that translucent skin, that short-cropped Titian hair with the huge diamond cuff on one hand and then nothing else. It just threw everyone off balance. They loved it, they hated it, they didn't know what to do. There were people crying that Albert was gonna get fired from the house of Lanvin. Nothing's, in fashion, nothing's more shocking than the new. It takes us a while to get used to the fact that somebody wore an extraordinary dress named Tilda Swinton. [NOISE] I'm never usually a fan of black dresses, cuz I think they sort of fade into the woodwork. It's a safe place to go, but Chloe Sevigny wore what I think may be one of the most elegant, beautiful. Classy. Oscar dresses of all time. It's black but there are yards and yards and yards of black silk jersey running behind her when she moved, it was like she created her whole, like her own train her own parade. The, the dress has so much modern elegance to it, it's extraordinary. The irony is that the, the dress was designed by Albere Bez when he was Eve San Lorine. And unfortunately two months after this, Albere was fired. Nothing to tall for Nehousin Visale more than the fact that Chloe Stephanie's dress by Albere wound up on best dress lists. Everywhere including InStyle was actually called the dress of the year. At the end of that year. [MUSIC] Much is made about the impact that address the right dress on the Oscars will have on a design house. But sometimes we over look the impact it might have on a little known actress wearing. A fantastic gown. Keira Knightley we all know now is a great beauty, but in 2006 she wasn't very well known and then at the Oscar's she wore a burgundy taffeta gown a ball gown, an extraordinary coronation worthy ball gown by Vera Wang with an, an Indian inspired diamond and turquoise and ruby choker necklace. The impact was incredible. It was almost the same as if she had released the blockbuster movie that Friday before the Oscars, because the next morning, it was one of those cases of, who's that girl? And we gotta find her, and Keira Knightley's career just took a huge leap forward. She will tell you on the red carpet, she will tell you while she's talking to David Letterman, Ellen, anyone who will listen. Julia Roberts is not a girly girl. But in 2001, she was highly favored to win the Oscar for Erin Brockovich. And it was almost as if she said, you know something? Okay, I'll give it one good shot. And she did. It was a dress from Valentino's 1982 collection of blue velvet with white satin stripes. Julie certainly looked elegant, regal, did her hair up in a series of top knots. You will never see a hairdo that complicated on her again, and it looked picture perfect for that moment of posterity, of her holding the Oscar. How are you feeling? Very happy. There was one year where Valentino did five, maybe six dresses. It all changed in 2005. Kate Blanchette was a favorite to win best supporting actress for The Aviator. Few women in Hollywood, few women anywhere. Are as distinctive looking as Cate Blanchett. She moves like a queen. She just radiates intelligence. She went to Valentino and asked if he would create a gown for her, a couture gown, one of a kind gown. They did it in pale yellow just to match her hair. And guaranteeing the designer that she would wear it. The only caveat was she would be the only person wearing Valentino that night. And she was. All you need is the right woman and even better if she's a winner. And Kate was on both counts. And the amount of press that Valentino got from that one yellow, burgundy sash gown- The any five of the actresses wearing it. Nicole Kidman is on the cover of this year's March fashion issue of Instyle. But in 1997 she was basically known as Tom Cruise's wife. She had 12 movies, none of which we're blockbuster or breakout hits. She was that tall, beautiful, Titian hair woman who stood next to Tom until Oscar Night of 1997 when she arrived on the red carpet in a dress, the likes of which no one had ever seen before. Number One it was haute couture by John Galliano from the house of dior. Number two it was all designed in sheen waziri. Incredible embroidery that took two hundred hours, beading on the back like a spider that got caught in a crystal maze. But what that dress did was they created a new image. They upped the bar because they took a haute couture dress and put it on the red carpet and today. Today the ultimate gold ring for any star is to be big enough to qualify to wear a one of a kind haute couture gown at a major awards ceremony. At the unripe age of 23. We now know that Jennifer Lawrence can play high drama, low comedy. She can be the victim, she can be the superhero. There seems to be nothing she can't do, but in 2011 she only had one film that we had seen to her credit. And that was Winter's Bones, where she played a gritty mountain girl. Basically jeans and flannels and anoraks and then she showed up at the Oscars in 2011 in a fire engine, body hugging, red jersey Calvin Klein collection gown. We talk about her being as the, the woman on fire in Hunger Games but she was on fire that night. At Oscar night, and suddenly she was the girl of the hour. Didn't matter if she won or not. She was the woman on everybody's lips the next morning.