Every Unforgettable, Breathtaking Oscar Dress Since 1951
At long last, the red carpet fashion we've been craving finally returns. We have no doubt that plenty of actresses and actors will pull out all the stops for 2021's Academy Awards this Sunday — especially following a year of pandemic Zooms and fancy pajama sets. But, the truth is, the Oscars has never left us feeling disappointed or craving more glamour. It's the one event where nominees and their peers pull out all the stops, and that's always been the case.
Of course, there are always a few looks that truly stand out in the crowd, and end up becoming part of fashion history. For example, who can forget Audrey Hepburn's sweet Givenchy number? Or the time Lupita Nyong'o went full Disney princess in a plunging Prada creation?
It's time to revisit the most iconic, breathtaking Oscars dresses of all time. It's a long list, but it's worth every single click.
Marilyn Monroe, 1951
Marilyn Monroe selected this cloud of black tulle from the 20th Century Fox wardrobe department for the 23rd Annual Academy Awards.
Audrey Hepburn, 1954
When Audrey Hepburn stepped out in this sweet, floral Givenchy dress with a high neckline, she immediately made fashion history. The feminine design has since become the ultimate classic, inspiring red carpet dresses for decades — and decades to come.
Grace Kelly, 1955
Grace Kelly won an Oscar for The Country Girl while wearing a classic, ice-blue design by Edith Head. The gown, which was originally created for the movie's premiere, was cut from a bolt of $4,000 French satin and paired with a matching evening coat.
Elizabeth Taylor, 1961
Perhaps the best part about Elizabeth Taylor's colorful Christian Dior gown is the floral embellishment, which matched her bright red lipstick, creating a glamorous look.
Barbra Streisand, 1969
Ok, technically, Barbra Streisand wore pants to the awards show, but we'd be doing a disservice if we didn't mention this sparkly and, yes, see-through design by Arnold Scaasi. We also love the oversized white collar and cuff details, which made the ensemble extra statement-making.
Audrey Hepburn, 1975
It's unsurprising that Audrey Hepburn could realistically be on this list multiple times, but we'll keep it to just two. Once again, she went with her go-to, Givenchy, wearing a beaded, floral-embellished design complete with a bow and skin-baring cutout.
Anjelica Huston, 1975
Anjelica Huston seemingly channeled a mermaid on the red carpet, alongside then-boyfriend Jack Nicholson. She later revealed she actually purchased the scale-like Halston dress at Neiman Marcus.
Farrah Fawcett, 1978
'70s and metallic dresses go together like peanut butter and jelly, so it's no wonder that Farrah Fawcett — one of the top style icons of that decade — went with a golden Stephen Burrows for one of the fanciest nights of the year.
Meryl Streep, 1980
Meryl Streep, of course, has plenty of red carpet wins in her book, but her white Pauline Triger gown with a matching, structured jacket was peak fashion, and we'll never forget it.
Debbie Allen, 1982
When Debbie Allen took the stage for a performance with Gregory Hines, she perhaps wore the most timeless dress of them all. The fringe details, structured shoulders, and thigh-high slit would work in any decade, but is especially on-trend for modern times (and someone should definitely bring it back).
Daryl Hannah, 1988
The long, elegant gloves, the shiny white tights — Daryl Hannah made some pretty daring moves when accessorizing her shiny, silver dress, and it definitely paid off.
Winona Ryder, 1994
We tend to associate '90s Winona Ryder with grunge fashion — plaid flannels, leather jackets, jeans, boots — but it seems she went the opposite route on the Oscars red carpet. The actress chose a very flapper-like fringed white dress, and opted for short, simple pumps to match.
Uma Thurman, 1995
Nominated for her role in Pulp Fiction, Uma Thurman opted for a simple lilac design from Prada.
Nicole Kidman, 1997
Nicole Kidman found the happy medium between vibrant, fun, and elevated with her chinoiserie gown from Christian Dior
Gwyneth Paltrow, 1999
"I just wanted to look very sweet," Gwyneth Paltrow said of her pretty pink Ralph Lauren gown.
Cate Blanchett, 1999
When it came to her stunning bespoke John Galliano gown, Cate Blanchett had a hand in the design process. And, bonus — according to Blanchett, the knit dress (trimmed with Lesage embroidery) was comfortable as well!
Renee Zellweger, 2001
This canary vintage Jean Desses gown crowned Renee Zellweger as one to watch on the red carpet.
Julia Roberts, 2001
Julia Roberts accepted her Oscar for Erin Brockovich in a dramatic velvet-and-satin vintage Valentino gown from the designer's 1982 collection dedicated to movie stars. Valentino told InStyle, "This dress made me nervous. You are never sure who is going to wear what until they walk out onto the stage. That night I was in Rome, watching the Oscars live on television, and I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning to see if she wore it."
Salma Hayek, 2000
At a time when fashion was a little all over the place, with sheer designs and so many crop tops, Salma Hayek stuck to the classics. We're sure this purple, halter-neck gown and matching tulle shawl inspired plenty of prom looks that year. It's the ultimate Y2K, dressed-up look.
Charlize Theron, 2000
Charlize Theron's form-hugging Vera Wang dress stood out on the red carpet, even in a tomato-y shade.
Cameron Diaz, 2000
We continue to make a big deal over "naked dresses" in today's world, but what about when Cameron Diaz showed up to the Oscars in a fully sheer, black design, which also showed a whole lot of leg? Iconic, to say the least.
Halle Berry, 2002
If you were alive in 2002, you definitely saw this gown everywhere for the next year. Not only did Halle Berry's slightly sheer, embellished, burgundy Elie Saab gown go down in history, the Best Actress winner paved the way for the many "naked dresses" of the future.
Reese Witherspoon, 2002
Reese Witherspoon stole the spotlight at her Academy Awards debut, thanks to a Valentino makeover. "It was her first time presenting and Reese wasn't as established back then," the designer told InStyle. "People thought of her as cute, but not glamorous."
Cameron Diaz, 2002
Cameron Diaz belted her floral-print Emanuel Ungaro dress with a 19th-century Indian necklace from Fred Leighton for a look that was uniquely her.
Jennifer Garner, 2004
The Valentino gown the designer created for Jennifer Garner took four couturiers more than 300 hours to create, the designer told us.
Beyoncé made her way down the red carpet in a luscious black velvet vintage gown from Atelier Versace.
Hilary Swank, 2005
Hilary Swank dared-to-bare in a totally unexpected and eye-catching way. The Million Dollar Baby actress showed off her back in a Guy Laroche gown.
Keira Knightley, 2006
"Keira wanted something dramatic and sexy," Vera Wang told InStyle of the burgundy mermaid dress she made for Knightley's Oscar appearance."The color is absolutely gorgeous on her."
Michelle Williams, 2006
Brokeback Mountain nominee Michelle Williams owned the red carpet in a marigold design from Vera Wang. The silk-chiffon dress, chosen a week before the ceremony, was accessorized with dark 19th-century Fred Leighton diamonds.
Jennifer Lopez, 2007
Presenter Jennifer Lopez sparkled in a crystal-strung Marchesa design. "Pretty huh? I want to keep it!" she told reporters of the custom gown.
Marion Cotillard, 2008
Marion Cotillard shined in this Jean Paul Gaultier embellished gown. "Marion initially requested something simple, but I wanted everyone to see the woman I saw," the designer told InStyle. "So I showed her the sketches for this mermaid-inspired dress, and she loved it. We waited two weeks for the fabric, which was printed with fish scales and laboriously hand-embroidered."
Freida Pinto, 2009
Indian actress Freida Pinto gave a nod to her homeland with a sari-inspired design from John Galliano. Complementing the cobalt design (and the theme!) was a 150-year-old diamond from her native country.
Anne Hathaway, 2009
Anne Hathaway glowed like a pearl in Giorgio Armani.
Sandra Bullock, 2010
"The dress does make the woman," joked Sandra Bullock of her embroidered silver Marchesa gown. Not so! The peek-a-boo design was timeless, and perfectly suited this iconic actress.
Mila Kunis, 2011
Mila Kunis looked radiant in a lavender haute couture design from Elie Saab. The only drawback to the chiffon-and-lace layered number? A lack of insulation. "I'm cold, I have to admit!" Kunis joked on the red carpet.
Angelina Jolie, 2012
When Angelina Jolie bared her right leg in a stunning velvet Atelier Versace gown, the move became an instant Internet sensation. Jolie accented the classic gown with Neil Lane jewels, a Jaime Mascaro bag and custom Salvatore Ferragamo velvet peep-toes.
Gwyneth Paltrow, 2012
"I've learned to wear what works for my body while always taking a bit of a risk," Gwyneth Paltrow told InStyle of her sleek all-white Tom Ford dress. She accessorized the gown and cape with Anna Hu Haute Joaillerie diamonds, Jimmy Choo shoes, and a sleek low ponytail.
Jennifer Lawrence, 2013
Jennifer Lawrence stole the show in a strapless Dior Haute Couture pale blush gown that she styled with Chopard diamonds and a metallic Roger Vivier clutch. The Best Actress winner for Silver Linings Playbook wore pear-shaped white diamond drop earrings, plus a white diamond band, floral diamond ring, and the show-stopping centerpiece: a 74-carat strand of 150 diamond beads, which she wore backwards, draping down her back.
Lupita Nyong'o, 2014
Lupita Nyong’o had a real-life Cinderella moment—she took her red carpet stroll in a sweeping deep-plunge Prada gown fit for a princess, complete with Fred Leighton jewelry, including one gold headband (aka tiara).
Emma Stone, 2015
Emma Stone embraced chartreuse, aka one of the trickiest shades ever. She stunned in a bead-embroidered Elie Saab gown that featured full sleeves and an open back.
Lupita Nyong'o, 2015
With thousands of tiny pearls and a fit that was divine, it’s no surprise that Lupita Nyong'o's Calvin Klein Collection halter dress for the Oscars was later stolen (and returned).
Cate Blanchett, 2016
Blue officially became the color of the night when endorsed by Blanchett and, of course, she chose the most spectacular shade—an icy crystal that picks up the sparkle of her Tiffany & Co. jewels (and also matches the Roger Vivier clutch). Those three-dimensional flowers of her Armani Privé gown added a rare touch of whimsy to the Oscars.
Saoirse Ronan, 2016
“Saoirse is 21 years old, and this Calvin Klein dress was about her being able to enjoy herself and this road that she’s been on for the last few months with Brooklyn,” Saoirse Ronan's stylist, Elisabeth Saltzman, told InStyle. “We really wanted to embrace her body, and do it with a mix of confidence and sultry sophistication.”
Jessica Biel, 2017
Jessica Biel was the very definition of a golden goddess at the 2017 Oscars in a glittering KaufmanFranco gown. And when it came to jewelry, she wasn't afraid to outshine her dress with an extravagant gold, diamond, and platinum necklace from Tiffany's, which is estimated to be worth around $2 million.
Michelle Williams, 2017
The actress decided to keep it classic in Louis Vuitton — fitting, considering she's the face of the brand. The simplicity of her dress's black velvet bodice was offset by a heavily-embroidered skirt. Meanwhile, diamond stud earrings and a matching bracelet added the right amount of bling.
Zendaya looked every inch of a leading lady in a whimsical Giambattista Valli gown. A one-sleeve silhouette offered major Grecian vibes, while dangling diamond earrings gave a hint of Old Hollywood.
Octavia Spencer, 2018
Octavia Spencer brought the drama with her shoulder baring, custom Brandon Maxwell gown. The green provided just enough pop against a sea of neutrals that night, landing her on multiple best dressed lists.
Margot Robbie, 2018
Margot Robbie's Chanel Haute Couture gown for the 2018 Academy Awards took 550 hours to custom create by fourteen hands. The dress's corset bodice features a 3D band of crystals that effortlessly drapes off her shoulders and is supported by two crystal camellias (Coco Chanel's favorite flower.)
Nicole Kidman, 2018
Nicole Kidman shut down the 2018 Oscars red carpet in a cobalt blue Armani Privé dress. At first glance, all the attention is drawn to gown's giant bow in the center, but upon closer inspection, a surprise leg reveal is what really made the ensemble a true showstopper.
Gemma Chan, 2019
Not only did that flowy shape and bright pink shade ensure all eyes were on Gemma Chan's Valentino dress, the design also included pockets — which, as the actress shared, were a great place to hold cookies for the actual event.
Lady Gaga, 2019
There are two Lady Gaga's when it comes to fashion: Musical artist Lady Gaga, who doesn't shy away from intense cutoff shorts and showing a lot of skin, and actress Lady Gaga, who leans into old Hollywood glamour. The latter showed up on the red carpet in 2019, wearing a black Alexander McQueen gown with matching gloves and Audrey Hepburn's necklace from Breakfast at Tiffany's.
Billy Porter, 2019
After Billy Porter defied fashion norms by showing up to the Oscars in a long, velvet gown by Christian Siriano, he shared his thought process with InStyle.
"Women are allowed to be masculine and that’s considered strong and powerful," he said over the phone. “But when men wear dresses, it’s a thing. I’m over that. We need to shatter that stereotype.”
Cynthia Erivo, 2020
Cynthia Erivo clearly knew what she was doing when it came to power posing in her white Versace dress. The Oscar nominated actress happily put her hands on her hips and let her leg — and matching white heels — pop out from her thigh-high slit.
Kristen Wiig, 2020
Kaitlyn Dever, 2020
Sandra Oh, 2020
Between the poufy sleeves, bow belt, and all that sparkle, Sandra Oh's Elie Saab Haute Couture dress was the big winner of the night, regardless of who took home awards.
Brie Larson, 2020
At first glance, you'll probably focus on the cool cape detail on Brie Larson's Celine by Hedi Slimane gown. But, this baby definitely deserves a closer look, as it's also adorned with 13,000 Swarovski crystals.