Rate the dress

Rate the Oscars 2016

It’s time for my usual break for Rate the Dress, where I take charge and Rate the Oscars.

I almost didn’t do it this year, because most of the dresses were so boring or awful, but after my impassioned defence of the importance of clothing last year, well…I kind have to.

I’m only rating women this year because I told myself I could only do this post if I could write it in under an hour, and so I needed to draw some parameters.

First off, the only dress that even came close to being a full 10/10 for me this year:

1Amy Poehler

I know Amy Poehlers  dress hasn’t gotten the best reviews elsewhere.  I know it’s been called a muumuu.  I still think it’s FABULOUS.   There whole skin/exposure/sexy thing has been SO overdone for the last two years that the only way to really look interesting anymore is to not show any.  This dress manages to skim her figure and show how good it is without being skin-tight, is fantastically bold and interesting without taking anything away from her face, and is such a breath of fresh air after the 18gazillion black, white, red, and maybe pastel-or-glitter dresses on the red carpet.  Also, it looks comfortable.  Plus, I doubt Amy knows this, but in traditional Chinese embroidery the flying beauties on her dress are not butterflies, but moths, and a moth covered dress is such a cool concept.  Plus, though her dress seems short on peonies, in the same traditional embroidery the moth being attracted to the peony is about fertilization – i.e. just what you think it is.  So, still totally over the top sex-y, just with a complete wink and nudge.  FABULOUS

Ahem.  I think I may need to move on.

1Isla Fisher

9/10 for Isla Fisher’s interesting, flattering, well balanced, not-boring (by the standards of the night) dress.  It would be twee but for the belt, and the belt manages to give it edge without clashing.  I desperately want a few meters of that fabric!

Now this is where it gets hard, because…

There is no 8.

Or 7.

Or 6.

Just a sea of 5 and under superhero costumes, or the warped creations of their mutant enemies.  Or the unattractive-yet-heroic mutant superhero outfits.

OK, maybe I’ll give Sandy Powell an 8 for totally embracing the theme of evil super-villan:

1Sandy Powell

I mean.  Look at her.  Sandy Powell knows that the whole red carpet glamour thing is going to be ridiculous on her, and anyway, she’s a costume designer so she should just pick a persona and GO with it, and she clearly went with evil supper-villan-ess.  I bet her suit is fireproof!  I bet her hair actually lights on fire when she uses her powers!  I bet she can fire laser-bolts from that ring!  I bet her necklace can be thrown around the necks of her enemies and choke them of its own accord!  You know she has no feet-just blocks to trample the unwary with.  It’s so awful it wins an 8 for self-aware awfulness.

Our Villains:

Powell’s  henchmen include:

1Lily Cole Tin Foil

Lily Cole As Lin Tin Foil.  Giver of mean papercuts, and able to make a sound that makes you long for fingernails on a chalkboard.  Also, always out when you want her.

1Lady Gaga melted plastic

Lady Gaga as Lady Mel-Ted Plas-Tic.  I’m pretty sure her super-power is being able to duplicate herself, but at the end of the day she has to melt down the duplicates, like that Dr Who episode.  But she turns all the melted down duplicates into computer chargers and cases (I’m looking at you Apple) which slowly infect their users.  Unfortunately, as she duplicates and melts herself her original body slowly begins to melt away, which explains the boob and bodice situation.

1Heidi Klum

Heidi Klum as Saccharissa SugaRita Easter-Vomit.  Her pastel-toned tentacles  creep out and wrap you in sugary sweetness, slowly dissolving you until all that is left is a poisonous, sugary syrup.

1Kate Winslet as Oil Spill

Kate Winslet as Titanicia Oil-Spill.  Her weakness is birds.  Particularly waterbirds, like penguins, and cormorants.  It explains a lot about her.

1Reese Witherspoon

Reese Witherspoon as Bustee  Basilisk  Boobs.  What’s behind those flaps of fabric with literally freeze the marrow in your bones.

1Rooney Mara

Rooney Mara as the dis-Honourable  Lacey Gentlee Wafting-Curtains.  Having left the ELE, she’s now top henchman in Powell’s Awful Band of Awfulness. Her goal is to trade up in the Super-villain leagues, and every time she does, the diamond on her chest gets larger.  Her goal is for it to get big enough that she can face Superman, and they can have a ‘whose-random-geometric-shape-shield is larger contest’.

Our Un-Heroes:

Facing Sandy Powell and the Awful Band  of Awfulness are a ragtag band of B-grade superheros and mutants, like:

1Sunrise Coigney

Sunrise Coigney as a late 1990s Kung-Fu Wrestlemaster computer heroine brought to life in the real world.  Technically, she should be able to subdue her foes with anatomically improbably head-high force-kicks, and super-special master-chops, but rendered in fabric and flesh her legs always get caught in her skirt and she spends more time trying to keep her bodice from falling off her shoulders.  If she can’t win her next fight she will loose her Pixel-World Championship Lady Fighter Master-Grunt belt.

1 Kerry Washington Mutant

Kerry Washington as mutant Miss Universe Potato-Head.  All of her body parts can be rearranged, but the never go back on quite-right, so her legs and head and torso all sit at improbably angles.

1Daisy Ridley

Daisy Ridley as the Incredible Accordion Girl.  Her middle half fold up like an accordion, or stretches out when needed.  She can go down stairs like a slinky.

1Cate Blanchett

Cate Blanchett as Wonder Crafter, the Goddess of the Glue Gun.  Saccharissa Suga-Rita is her mortal enemy, but no matter how hard she tries, she just can’t glue down her frothy tentacles.

1Priyanka Chopra

Priyanka Chopra as The Bride in Two Parts.  Unsnap her belt and she  comes apart at the waist so that both halves can crawl off to attack the enemy.  It’s not the most efficient fighting strategy.  She was supposed to be an inter-connected trilogy, so that her head, torso, and legs could all go off on their own, attached by her magical lining, which would allow her to swing the disconnected bits on long elastic lassoes of lining, to whack and catch the bad guys,  but something went wrong with her lining-layer, and instead of stretching as intended it just bunches up at her midriff.

1Jennifer Garner

Jennifer Garner as Glamour Woman.  No one is sure what her superpower is, but they all admit she has the best costume.

1Naomi Watts

Naomi Watts, who is actually just an ordinary glamorous actress on the red carpet, but no matter what she does everyone assumes she’s a superhero based on her dress, so she’s stuck pretending to be Electra von Disco, and claims that her dress can blind everyone with its scintillating lights, and send sonic shock waves through the air, but it was really just a bad dress choice for the night.

Crap.  We’re doomed.


  1. Stacey says

    Sandy Powell… that pattern matching, though. Look at where the sleeves meet the front, and how perfectly balanced those enormous lapels are! I love me some fierce pattern matching!

    • That’s why it’s still an 8! It’s one of the most beautifully made and fitted items on the carpet, just consciously outrageous and awful.

      • Stacey says

        And it’s funny that almost all of the terrible gowns have an element that I really like. The clean lines and color gradation of Naiomi Watts’ bodice. The skirt is just a travesty. I like the sparkly half of Jennifer Garner’s bodice, but the material for the rest of it looks like it feels totally crunchy and gross. So many gorgeous fabrics in bad designs, or playful designs with bad fabric or trim choices. Very weird.

  2. Oh gosh, that was just too entertaining!! I think you need to start re-capping all awards show red carpets!

    Although, my first thought with Sandy Powell was that she was channelling David Bowie/Ziggy Stardust. But yes, it’s wonderfully, gloriously bad ass pattern matchingly hideous!

    I have to admit that I think the *colour* of Cate Blanchett’s dress is sublime on her. She needs to wear that colour, but without hot glued flowers all over

    And while Lady Gaga’s has serious fit issues in the bust and is rather ugly-ish, I admire the sculptural, almost architectural quality of it. And you can’t expect her to show up in anything approximating “normal” lol

    • Elise says

      I liked the bones of Lady Gaga’s dress, too. If only the fit were better!!! I didn’t watch the show, but I wondered if the outfit wasn’t meant for her piano piece–imagine, she sits on the bench, and the gown and train flow behind.

  3. You know sometimes I just understand why you don’t need to drink – you can have drunk-like fun without it, and the subsequent hangover! 😉
    This is hilarious. I am not quite comfortable with the whole thing because there’s always an element of personal attack, and it’s the mad designers who are at least partly to blame – in the labs with their mad hair and white coats and bubbling flasks and test tubes, conjuring up a sea of awful. And where wold we be without the whacko of it all.
    And TOTES with you on the top gown – FABULOUS!!! Secret pyjamas glamorous! She wins at everything! LOVE the Sandy Suit, it’s the Anti Red Carpet thing. And Isla’s.

    • Good point about the personal attack. I do think about it, and really try to keep the comments focused on the dress. And most of these dresses would be fine, if there wasn’t an overall sort of ridiculous superhero think happening. Mostly I hate the whole celebrity discussing-their-lives thing (I would never critique a celebs not-public-appearance outfit), but I do think that dressing for the Oscars is part of their job, and thus is fare game for outfit critique – just as its fair to critique a published book, or a painting displayed publicly. They know if they go their outfit will be talked about, just like I know when I write certain blog posts I might get some flack, and I’m OK with that 🙂

      • I know you would think about it because you are not a narky person xo, and this is by far the most entertaining critique! I saw a funny thing about the scandal of so many guys turning up in the same outfit!!! They are so lucky.
        My 10/10 goes to Jenny Beavan though. For the sheer lack of f**ks she showed, and ironically winning Best Costume!

  4. I actually looked at the Oscar dresses before you posted, and I was appalled. As some famous person whose name I am currently failing to recall once said: “The good is not new and the new is not good.” Except there was precious little good design in dresses this year, in my opinion.

  5. Paloverde says

    I’m giggling over this. I had just finished reading Laura Mae’s (Lilacs and Lace) dissection of the Oscar gowns and then I found your take. It’s funny how you two are diametrically opposed in your analyses on many of these gowns. Ah well, to each her own. Thanks for your opinions. Very entertaining.

  6. Kathryn says

    I love Sandy Powell’s outfit, for real. I would rather see narrower legs and narrower lapels, but I think it’s genuinely great. I would wear it myself. Sans necklace.

    Also, no comment on Jenny Beavin? I’m very curious what you think about all that. Personally, I thought her outfit suited her, looked confortable both physically and psychologically, and was so anti-establishment that I couldn’t help but fall in love. I’ve said elsewhere that to me, her costumes in Mad Max were perfect in that they said something significant about the characters, the culture they lived in and their approach to navigating that culture (same reasons I loved the costumes in Selma last year). In my opinion, Beavin did the same thing for herself when she chose that outfit. Just fantastic.

    Also, Amy Poehler’s dress was perfect, agreed.

  7. “There whole skin/exposure/sexy thing has been SO overdone for the last two years that the only way to really look interesting anymore is to not show any.”
    To further that, the whole strapless evening look has been overdone for the last, I don’t know, ten years, so I’ve been holding out for a heroine to not do it, and from thereon I agree with you. (It’s more a question of what filters down to the masses, but still. If even celebrities can’t make it fit them right, why do other people cling to that look of all things?)

    I’m always so disappointed by the hairstyles at these events. Not that my go-to braid has much of a right to speak up; but I think Regency has spoiled me for modern fashions in hair. And I hate, hate the tight combed back look. Might be personal; I grew up hating having it done to me because it pulled.

    I’m kind of hoping a stressed out celebrity will find your break-down and will have a right good laugh about it with her feet up and a cup or glass of something pleasant at hand.

    • Elise says

      Strapless really has had its time in the sun. The fact that Oscar de la Renta looked dated (!) on Reese Witherspoon says it all. And I agree with you about hair, too. I know that I would prefer to have something up and out, Regency-style, than to have it shellacked and down.

        • Elise says

          Funny, I found some of my old hair pieces from Hot Topic…and the 90s a few weeks ago. I miss things in hair. But have you seen the recent Prada ads? They have Ponytails with the tail held down on the side of the head with a jeweled barrette!

          • No, I come across modern fashion things very erratically. 😀 But it made me think I should make more things to wear in my hair for the HSM, just because! (After all, the Regency events I attend are balls, so I totally ought to have things in my hair!)

  8. Call me a bit crazy, but I really like Sunrise Coigney’s black dress with the gold waist detail, and also loved Cate Blanchett’s teal wonderland dress. That gauzy-purple “sugar plum dress” of Heidi’s has nice fabric, but I don’t like the style. Isla Fisher’s dress IS stunning! It looks so beautiful on her! Thanks so much for sharing, I always enjoy these posts you do as I never really watch Oscars.

  9. I want to steal Amy Poehler’s dress. I’d wear it all summer long, even for groceries ! It has BUTTERFLIES (or moths, I like moths as long as they aren’t the real deal and in my house) ! and a CAPE ! <3

  10. Elise says

    hollywoodreporter.comI thought Saoirse Ronan’s dress was interesting: Green for Ireland, and a homage to The Green Dress from Atonement, where she got her start. You can see it at this website: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/saoirse-ronans-dress-photos-2016-870141

    I like when clothes have stories, and cease being just ‘clothes’ but also statements. Part of the #askhermore campaign giving actresses a place to be both beautiful and intelligent.

    • This is a really good question when it comes to talking clothes–do we critique the clothing on “artistic merit” only, as is often typical of the kind of critique we engage in for literature, art, film, and the like? Or does the story matter?

      I kind of feel like they’re two different (though sometimes intersecting) conversations. I might critique the clothing’s artistry (which may or may not have much to do with the person wearing it) on very different grounds, with very different results, than I appreciate or engage with the story behind the choice to wear the piece or the creation of the garment.

      The dress Ronan wears is a great example. I can appreciate her rationale for wearing it and still think–shoot dang, that’s an awkwardly joined bodice and skirt and the drape is all funky in spots.

      • Elise says

        You are exactly right, and what makes clothing so interesting: it’s wearable art, and sometimes even a collaboration between wearer and designer. In the best ways, it’s also a collaboration between the designer and the seamstresses at the atalier. So it is very important to ask *why* someone chooses a garment, and also about other issues. I feel they correlate.

        And because clothing is wearable art, it is important to critique the piece, as well, so that we can all engage in an art discussion.

        And I admit that I am totally slanted: I like Isla Fisher for donating a million dollars to Syrian refugees, so was ready to like her dress. Amy Poehler does wonderful work for girls and feminism, so I was ready to like hers, too. Good thing that these ladies also have good taste in clothing as they do in causes!

  11. Elise says

    theguardian.comhollywoodreporter.comOh, three more!
    Isla Fisher has GREAT style, her husband zinged the #oscarssowhite in a wonderful pithy way, and both of them together gave $1,000,000 for Syrian refugees. So they can do no wrong in my book. And they certainly do a lot of right while looking sharp. I think that their personal style really helps publicise their efforts so that they can be role models for us all to help others.

    You can read about their donation, here: http://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/dec/28/sacha-baron-cohen-and-isla-fisher-give-670000-to-help-syrian-refugees

    Daisy Ridley looked interesting. She is so muscular and athletic, and I liked that dress on her figure. And Rooney Mara also came in an interesting dress. Both of them gave me pause, and I liked that. (There was so much bleh!)

    I feel sorry for Lily Cole, because her dress is so similar to Alicia Vikander, but in a more interesting color. Vikander’s dress, however, got all the praise. Then again, the folded-napkin-on-bubble-hem is a funny juxtaposition.

    You can see Vikander’s dress, here: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/alicia-vikanders-dress-photos-2016-870158

  12. ceci says

    Tina Fey and Olivia Munn, for the strong colors. And for looking like they have some support garments underneath.


  13. Loved reading this! You kept me laughing! And I had to agree with your picks.

  14. Emma says

    I really like Amy Poehlers dress. It’s pretty and she’s pretty. Maybe that’s the problem for some of the reviewers. Almost everyone else looks outrageous or kind of weird. She just looks really well put together and lovely.

    I think Isla Fisher’s dress is pretty as well (although I don’t like belts on dresses as a general rule and this one is no exception.)

    The rest of the outfits are really terrible although, if you really had to be outrageous I think Sandy Powell’s outfit is by far the best (I’d like it if it weren’t so bright but I think being extremely eye-catching is the point of wearing most of these things!)

  15. ProfessorBats says

    I also had the immediate thought that Sandy Powell’s outfit was a Bowie homage – and kudos for that. And it’s well executed, pattern placement and all, and I think it suits her. A 9 for me! Of course, the moth dress is in a league of its own, and superb. I want one.
    I actually like Rooney Mara’s dress rather a lot! It stands out, and has both historical fashion and menswear inspirations that push my buttons in the good way.

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