Rate the dress

Rate the Oscars 2015

I skipped my annual Rate the Oscars post last year, because all the outfits were so boring.  I’m back in for this year though, because of a conversation I had last night.

Someone was discussing a red carpet host who decided to ask the men the same questions they asked the women – specifically “Who are you wearing?”  According to this person, the men got a bit weirded out and upset – and wanted to know why they weren’t being asked ‘real’ questions, about the film they were in etc.

Now, this doesn’t make sense to me, because I’ve watched the Oscars red carpet, and the men always do get asked about their outfits.  And they answer, happily.

Now, “Who are you wearing?” is a dumb question (“Who designed your outfit?” is just as short and much more accurate), but I would strongly maintain that questions about clothes are ‘real’ questions.

Yes, male and female actors should be asked the same question, but on the red carpet at Oscars night, questions about clothes are probably the most valid questions to ask.  Every actor there has discussed their film to death in talk shows and interviews for months, and months.  The votes are in, there is nothing they can do to affect the chances.  Every person on that carpet has  also put hours of thought and deliberation into their outfit and every aspect of their look.  Why not ask them about it?  How is that inappropriate and invalid?

The red carpet looks also reflect wider societal shifts, and can tell us important things about what is happening.  Red carpet clothes have been pretty and glamourous but safe, and boring for the last few years for the same reason studios are pumping out endless sequels and remakes and surefire superhero blockbusters: Hollywood is under siege due to new media and the internet, and is sticking to safe things it knows works in response.  How many times have you heard the phrase ‘Old Hollywood Glamour’ in reference to an actors look?  Hollywood wants Old Hollywood back, in many ways.

Saying “We shouldn’t discuss clothes, that’s silly and sexist.” is actually sexist in itself.  It assumes that clothes are unimportant, and buy doing so buys into a deeper, more ingrained sexism.  Clothes are seen as a female interest, because for centuries women were in charge of many aspects of clothes procurement and care.  Knitting, spinning, small lengths of hand-sewing and mending are things that you can do in between rocking cradles, minding children, making food, and while nursing.  Clothes related tasks became women’s tasks because it was logical and practical for them to be women’s tasks.  They weren’t considered lesser tasks until a divide between Art and Craft arose in the Renaissance.  The writings that defined the Art/Craft divide are hugely misogynistic (just try reading any Cellini if you don’t believe me), and the idea that clothes, as a women ‘thing’ are frivolous is a descendent of those same ideas.  Don’t buy into it.  Clothes are important.  They are the first, and most obvious way we advertise our personality to the world.

And with that rather longer and more impassioned defense of the importance of clothing out of the way, here is my, admittedly silly and frivolous write-up rate-up on Oscar’s fashions.  Because sometimes silly and frivolous is OK too!

I’ve realised in writing this post that I am very out of the Hollywood loop.  I hardly see any movies, I don’t watch much TV.  Mostly I research, sew, write and read.  So I don’t know who  David Oyelowo is, but I do know his suit is AMAZING.  Brown on brown sounds terrible, but this looks like a really beautiful 1930s two-tone car, with every detail perfectly thought out.  The curve of that collar!  The contrast buttons.  The cut in the shoulders.  The little silent piping details, and the perfect length of white cuff.  I swoon.  And if it were black, or grey, or blue, it would be boring.  As it is, 10/10!  Be still my sartorial heart!

OscarsDavid Oyelowo

I know that putting Cate Blanchett in the top 3 is probably the most unoriginal placement ever, but how could you not?  She’s taken the most simple dress, and elevated it to perfection.  I would wear this in a heartbeat.  Except maybe for those fringy armholes.  Not sure about those, so 9/10 instead of a perfect score.


Viola Davis is also missing out on a perfect 10/10 for one thing.  Her necklace.  It’s just not doing it for me.  I love the dress – it manages to be Old Hollywood, without that being a synonym for Glamorous but Boring, which it usually is, and her lipstick colour is perfection, but that necklace is loosing 2 points.  8/10

OscarsViola Davis

This is Isan Elba.  I’m assuming she’s Idris Elba’s daughter, and under  16.  Technically, her frock is ghastly.  Bright blue and black are ghastly.  Stiff fakey organza ruffles are ghastly.  The high-low is almost always ghastly.  But on a teenager?  Fabulous!  Sometimes appropriateness makes all the difference.  And she looks like she is LOVING it.

7/10, because I still can’t quite forgive those ruffles.

OscarsIsan Elba

Zoe Saldana’s frock is gorgeous.  And just, just, just verging on Old Hollywood is So Boring.  But the seams turning into straps rescue it, for 7/10

OscarsZoe Saldana

Rosamund Pike is so beautiful it’s hard to just look at her dress.  And she’s so ethereal its nice to see her in something that isn’t, even if the red colour isn’t doing anything for her.  I LOVE the peacock fan effect of the bodice.  Tres magnifique.  And I would LOVE the whole dress, if it weren’t for that slit.  Not only is it an awful slit, but Rosamund has the same problem I do: leg tones that look terrible with red.  My legs go all sallow and yellow in red, hers go all purple and blotchy.  Next time close the slit and go for metallic shoes with your red frock Rosie.    6/10  

OscarsRosamund Pike

Rosamund may be loosing in the colour department, but America Ferrera is WINNING big time.  That may be the most divinely hued frock I have EVER seen.  I want to steal it off her…to cut apart and make a dress with a much less awkward bodice.  The weird boob squishage, the amateur chiffon overlay.  Not good.  But the colour…oh, the colour!  So good!  So 6/10.

OscarsAmerica FerreraWho is Laura Dern?  I don’t know.  Laura Dern’s dress is amazing.  Laura Dern’s clutch is amazing.  Laura Dern’s train has me worried.  And Laura Dern’s hair and twee ’90s medallion necklace have confirmed all my worries.  5/10, because if you hold one hand just above her decolletage, hiding her head, and another on the left hiding her train, she’s got the best outfit at the Oscars.   But if it takes two hands to rescue an outfit, that’s not right.

OscarsLaura Dern

In case you ever wanted to go to a costume party as Sexy Lettuce Garnish Chopped Finely on the Edge of the Plate, Emma Stone has you covered.  For which effort she gets a 4/10

OscarsEmma Stone

It’s another ‘Who the heck is this person?’ post.  Her name is Dakota Johnson.  She’s gorgeous, and red is her colour, but they forgot to sew a side seam (I hate literal side-slits), the super straight bottom doesn’t go with the drapey top, and the snake crawling up her shoulder caught her frock in its scales and is pulling it all out of wack.  30 seconds more and the fabric is going to tear or come uncaught and slip down in a very unfortunate wardrobe malfunction.  Still, fabulous colour, so 3  out of 10.

OscarsDakota Johnson

Marion Cotillard gets a lot of accolades for her fashion sense, and I can see where her frock is going here.  There’s a definitely ca. 1960 Balenciaga reference to the under-bum gathers.  And while the are not normal, nor strictly flattering, I’d be totally behind it (hehe) if it weren’t for the fabric.  The fabric just looks like toilet paper under a microscope, and as soon as that thought appeared in my mind I could not unsee it.

3  out of 10, which is still better than  the one Balenciaga we’ve done as a Rate the Dress got.


Ugh.  Ugh.  Ugh.  Stiff and icky.  Looks like it’s sculpted of plastic.  And reminds me of a milk ad – but the kind where you know they are using glue not milk.  Gross.  2/10    

Oscars Reese Witherspoon

Poor Jennifer Aniston.  Was she in a motorcycle accident or something?  That must be some serious road rash she got, because she’s wearing a full-body bandaid.  Flesh coloured, little holes for the skin to breath, layers where you wrapped it over itself.  This is just horrific.  And even worse from every other angle.  At least it isn’t starting to peel away at the edges and getting all grey and sticky like they do after 3 hours.

1 out of 10, because you know the rules –  no 0 in RtD.

Oscars Jennifer Aniston

Also getting a 1 cause I can’t go lower is Scarlett Johansson.  Usually a colour this magnificent would at least add an extra point or two, but the super-corseted, boobs pointing in opposite directions silhouette, dominatrix fungus necklace and 90s boy-band hair are all SO irredeemably awful that I just can’t find even a 2.  It’s an oversexed superhero at the Oscars costume.

OscarsScarlett Johansson

Speaking of costumes…

I lied.  I’m breaking all the rules, but there is no-way this deserves even a single  point:

OscarsGwyneth Paltrow

Or this:

OscarsNicole Kidman

Or this:

OscarsJennifer Lopez

I think Gwyneth, Nicole and Jennifer all  decided to come as Barbie at the Oscars, but went in totally different directions with it.  Gwyneth went for Classic ’80s Barbie at the Oscars, Nicole went for Malibu Barbie at the Oscars,  and Jennifer had a crisis of identity at the last minute and went for both Swimsuit Model and Princess Barbie at the Oscars.  Cleavage or meringue skirt Jen, pick one or the other.

For the final touch of awful, have a look at Nicole’s hem.


  1. Ohhh but I love the ScarJo dress! It’s beautifully tailored, the statement necklace is amazing, the hair is very in right now – like Dormer. I half expected that dress to be a romper when I first saw it but she keeps it formal as a dress for a red carpet event. It looks so modern compared to the annoyingly easy, boring choices so many women made this year. It’s unconventional! And it makes her look a little unapproachable which is a good style for an action hero in the making – ghost in the shell, lucy, black widow.

    Also even on a 16 year old I can’t believe you liked that satin monstrosity on Elba. She looks like a Barbie of a 6 year old with scissors – the dress is too choppy and straight in the layers for my liking.

  2. Heather says

    I love the fact that you don’t know who some of these people are, that makes you so unbiased! (that wants to work into a pun but it just isn’t happening) laura dern has been in a lot of things, mostly i remember her in Jurassic park 9where she carried off safari chic really well). Dakota Johnson is in the current mega hit (for some people) 50 Shades of grey.

    I totally agree with you on the critiques, and laughed a lot over some of your descriptions, especially the last three.

    p.s. If Nicole had on a large white bead necklace she could have been going as Wilma Flintstone goes to the Oscars.

  3. Hehehe I had all those dresses for my Daisy doll (similar to Barbie) when I was little, no wonder they all looked so familiar!

  4. Love this! Did Nicole Kidman get one of her kids to hack that dress off at the bottom with a pair of Crayola scissors? I remember Laura Dern from Jurassic Park, too. No idea who a lot of the younger ones are, but I do now know that Dakota Johnson is the daughter of Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson, and is now old enough to be in a sex film. Urgh.

    • Elise says

      Oh the hem…Hers was one of my favorite dresses, then you told me about the hem. Sigh…

  5. Lynne says

    I did enjoy this! And mostly, I agree with you.

    I would put in a plea for a couple more points for ScarJo (thanks, Elle!). If you use one hand to block out her head (hair from hell) and as much as you can of that OTT and in all directions necklace, the virtues of a seriously fitting really great green dress become more apparent, diverging boobage and all. And that was just one hand, which is allowed, right?

    And I know the two hands were needed for Laura Dern, but that is a terrific dress. And it fits. And it suits her shape. And it is beeeeooootiful. A couple more points?

    Kate and David – wonderful. But I might have knocked a point off Viola for the boob-flattening going on with the dress. Not a good fit. And the necklace? Shudder. Forget the necklace with that neckline, Viola – go for earrings.

    Oh, that felt good. Like eating chocolate. 🙂

  6. Elise says

    I believe the campaign was “Ask Her More”, meaning that you could ask about the clothes, and then also ask other questions, too. Like you, I adore clothes: they are your personality, they are art, they are the culmination of effort and taste.

    I thought that J-Lo and Gwynneth’s clothes were interesting. The former’s matched her skin so perfectly that it was like a commentary on nudity and silhouette. Gwynneth’s was change-up on her famous 90s dress. Not that I thought the outcomes were particularly beautiful, however.

    Yes to America’s dress! I love chiffon and what it does to different colors beneath it. And yes to the awkward bodice.

    But I loved Nicole Kidman’s dress. And then you told me about the hem. But I adored it. The fabric was interesting. And so was Naomi Watt’s. I liked the fabric on Marion Cotillard’s dress as well.

    So much fun, your take on this!

    • Aurora says

      youtube.comyoutube.comYes, this. The problem isn’t with women on the red carpet getting asked what they’re wearing. It’s that that question (which is usually equally asked to men and women) is followed up with questions about characterization and acting and work if you’re a man, and with questions about how long it took to do your hair and how you lost weight and how long you’ve went without eating if you’re a woman. It’s insulting because these are not fashion events, they’re events to celebrate the best of acting as a craft and an art, yet only men get to talk about *acting*, what they are there for, what they get paid to do and enjoy doing. The point isn’t that fashion shouldn’t be asked about, it’s that it shouldn’t be the ONLY THING they’re asked about.

      Here’s Buzzfeed’s video from last year where they only asked Kevin Spacey the appearance questions. Notice that he’s fine with the questions until about :20 seconds in, then just a bit confused for about ten seconds, and then gets annoyed because they’ve talked about how he looks for too long.


  7. EmSewCrazy says

    THANK YOU for booing the fungus necklace! First glimpse I caught of it I said MOLD! I also hate that hairstyle! Blech

    Nicole’s dress fabric was lovely. That hem is pretty um… How did that happen or for what effect was it allowed?

    I did like Reese’s dress. I thought she looked cute. It was better than that other black and white dress that other poor actress with unbrushed hair falling out all over the place, was wearing.

    Very fun review! Thanks for that!

  8. Very amusing way to start the day – thanks! The colour on Scarlett’s dress make up for the horrible hair. I love that colour!

  9. Nicole’s dress looks like she found an anaemic snake and just hacked it into a dress, she’s normally so well put together that I’m wondering if she was perhaps under the weather when she consented to wear it. I love Zoe Saldana’s dress, the colour suits her too which is always a plus, especially when you consider how many in that list didn’t check if the colour left them alive or dead before wearing it. Too many zombies this year.

  10. Laura says

    I mostly agree, although I’d rate Rosamund Pike (never heard of her before – I’m much like you with not really seeing much Hollywood media) a little higher despite the slit, because the rest of that dress blows me away. Aaaaand… I LOVE Scarlett Johanson’s getup. I agree with all of your qualifying descriptions of it, and I think it’s fantastic. I think Gwyneth Paltrow’s giant 80s shoulder flower is the worst of the worst personally.

    • She’s actually a British actress that hasn’t been in much of Hollywood enterprises, so it makes sense not to have heard much of her (she’s apparently a Bond girl, though). I was very taken with her Jane Bennet in the 2005 Pride and Prejudice (possibly one of the best things about that adaptation; although I liked more about it). I looked up pictures of her recently, because she does have that ethereal quality to her and I needed some inspiration in that regard… She does have a tendency to high slits in long skirts, which always somehow seem out of place on her.

      I also like Scarlet Johanson’s look – in the “I would absolutely not do this myself, but it suits her” way.

      • Grace Darling says

        Rosamund Pike also appeared in a 1960s-era movie called “An Education” and
        the costumes she and the other women wear are just wonderful. The better known
        British actress, Emma Thompson, has a supporting role.

        Rosamund is also in “Clash of the Titans”.

  11. It’s so hard to find a perfect 10. But then considering how few historical Rate the Dresses have merited that rating, maybe it should not be such a surprise. I agree with yours. 🙂
    Still, having seen so many historical oohs over the years after all, most of these are so hopelessly boring and somehow undignified. Has there been a floral dress anywhere on the Red Carpet? I’m looking at that display and missing florals, I’m finding out. Or some similar bit of pattern fun in the dresses. And more elegant updos instead of boring free locks and slicked back hair. What happened to those?
    (Also, if Old Hollywood is approximately 1930s, wasn’t part of the fun all the bias-cut dresses? Or does my “does not really follow Hollywood” bias show? Or 1950s? Would they have worn gloves with their dresses at such a function? All these things I do not really know but that do seem to take away from the intended glamour.)

  12. Grace Darling says

    The skirt of J.Lo’s dress is actually a copy of a state gown that Norman Hartnell
    designed for Queen Elizabeth II when she toured Australia & New Zealand in
    the mid-50s.

    My mother purchased a copy of the official tour magazine with all the outfits
    she wore, but the focus of the photographs was the stuffy male dignitaries,
    Governers and PMs she was meeting. Those were the good old days!!

    To my old eyes, those Oscar-meringues seemed nods to our Norman and
    1950s House of Windsor not ‘Old Hollywood’.

    • Lynne says

      I had fun googling ‘Norman Hartnell Elizabeth images’ – what a wealth (good word) of gowns! Poor JLo – she needed someone to get the skirt right, to make her a decent top, and probably also a remarkable team of embroiderers. Looked at in bulk, that’s one of the stand-out impressions of Hartnell’s dresses for the Windsor women. Such high quality couture work. They are lovely dresses, even if I do tend to prefer his simpler ones. Princess Margaret’s wedding dress, for instance, is lovely – a style that would bear repeating.

      Good thought, Grace!

  13. Marilyn J. Hollman says

    You are right on about each one. Well, maybe I wouldn’t give so much credit to Laura Dern’s color. (she’s a great actress.)
    What I love best about your comments is your eye for the details that make all the difference – like piping and the snake about to bite off the bodice — you can see it’s not comfortable, not to mention dangerous.

  14. I was so happy reading the top part! I totally agree with you on that one. If I had spent as much time as they do getting ready for this award show, I’d be pretty disappointed if no one even mentioned it. Also, trying to go into the deep-question field in the small amount of time they give would be kind of mean…you wouldn’t be able to give the kind of satisfactory answer you would otherwise be able to provide.

  15. Laura says

    Wow, had no idea you do rants that well!! Any time the mood strike, feel free 🙂

  16. Love reading about Oscar dresses through the eyes of a seamstress. I think you’re spot on about every dress/mess.

  17. Delfinemarie says

    I’d love to know what you thought of Lupita Nyong’o’s pearl dress. (I thought it was fantastic, possibly the best dress of the night.)

    Disagree on Scarlett Johansen’s dress; I wouldn’t give it a ten, but I liked the seams and tone-blocking.

    • I thought Lupita’s dress was amazing as well. Such clever work – amazing both in detail, and from far away. It just had to draw the line at including things somewhere! It would have been a 9 as well, because it would either have had to have no pearls in the back skirt, or be hellish to sit on, and neither of those is OK with me. 😉 Uncomfortable is not beautiful, which is part of why SJ is rating so low with me! She did NOT look comfortable in that dress at any point in the night!

  18. MJ Ruisi says

    ….I only have this….. Flesh tones…why are they considered colors?…

    • Because they *are* a color–they’re a variant of pink, or tan, or brown, or cream (depending on the person). They’re just not an interesting color, usually. I think of them as a kind of neutral in fashion terms, though.

    • Elise says

      I think that’s what made Jennifer Lopez’s dress so interesting: The silhouette was all ball-gown, but the cut was all va-va-voom. Making the dress match her flesh tone so perfectly starts a conversation in your head about sex and fashion and covering up vs hiding vs flaunting vs accentuating.

      Thanks, by the way, for calling it ‘flesh colored’ and not ‘nude’, which has the connotation for only Caucasian flesh tones.

      • I just didn’t see that. For me, JLo ALWAYS goes super over-sexed, so it just felt like this year she decided to go ball gown, but couldn’t give up on the over-sexed thing too, which cancelled both looks, and made it incredibly boring. It’s really interesting what different things we’ve taken away from the dress!

        Isn’t flesh coloured just as bad? Because then it assumes that it is a flesh? I actually like nude better for this, because it’s nude for the wearer, kwim? Like nude isn’t a colour, it’s a wearer-dependent shade? (and currently my nude is ombre, because my arms are so brown and my legs are so white 😉 )

        • I usually read “flesh colored” in the context of “the same flesh tone as the wearer.” That may or may not be the intention, but my mind goes there.

          Rock the ombre.

        • Elise says

          True, JLo often goes for over-sexed, but it’s always a color that shows against her brown skin, as opposed to one that exactly matches it. I thought it was an interesting take on over-the-top fashion.

          YES to how cool it is that people get many things out of an object of art, clothes, glasses of wine, etc. Art really is everywhere, and it’s neat how different perspectives can be.

          Isn’t it neat how different Anglophone countries have different semantics? In the US, the term “nude” has a strong white-skinned connotation, so that any brown-ish “nude” has to be qualified to be dark, ebony, beige, brown, chocolate, etc. I had a 16-year-old black girl tell me that she thought her black skin made her look ugly (I had complimented her outfit bringing out the gold in her skin), and you just don’t un-hear that pain and start to pay attention to how the US default is light-skinned.

  19. Ariana says

    !!awwww! I’m disappointed. I really want to read what you thought of Rita Ora’s ‘drape’ (not enough fabric to be a dress).

    • Hehe. That one was just too obviously critic bait. She didn’t care if she looked good, just as long as she made headlines. I made me think of unicorns. Naturally they poo chiffon. But it would be rainbow coloured.

  20. At least most of this year’s crop seemed to fit–it seems that, every year, there are a few droopy or floater bodices, skirts that start at the wrong place, shoulders that sag….I get that it’s often a last-minute process, but for goodness’ sake! These are glorious gowns and beautifully styled women, but poor fit can ruin everything.

  21. Kathryn says

    David Oyelowo is a British actor who played MLK in “Selma”, a performance for which he wasn’t nominated. A crime! And, not only was he one of the best dressed on the red carpet, he was also one of the best dressed in the movies this year. “Selma” did not hetnnominated for Best Cotume, also a crime. It had one of the best uses of costume to denote character, people’s relationships to each other, and the entrenched roles of the culture at large that I have ever seen. In fact, I would love for you to watch the movie and provide your take!

  22. Oh thank you for hating side slits and front slits as much as I do. They make legs just look so funny and awful I really don’t know why they are considered sexy. Margot Robbie and Cate Blanchett were my top picks for the night.

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