True Stories Behind the Most Unforgettable Oscars Looks


Written by Angie Orellana Hernandez, CNN

At the Oscars, it’s all about who wins the golden statuette, but also who looks the best. Celebrities come to the Oscars fashion culture from a variety of angles, whether they’re arriving at the ceremony dressed to the nines or stepping beyond traditional decorum.

But for every outfit that made it to the best-dressed or worst-dressed list, there was a story and an intention behind it, which author Esther Zuckerman, Senior Entertainment Editor at Thrillist, explores in her new book, “Beyond the Best Dressed: A Cultural History of Fashion’s Most Glamorous, Radical, and Outrageous Oscars.” The book delves into a range of red carpet looks that captured the cultural zeitgeist of their era, including Hattie McDaniel’s turquoise 1940 dress decorated with gardenias, Cher’s black showgirl ensemble from 1988 and the Björk’s swan dress from 2001.

Singer Bjork wore a Marjan Pejoski swan dress at the 73rd Annual Academy Awards in 2001. She was nominated for Best Song for “I’ve Seen it All” from the movie “Dancer in the Dark.” Credit: Laura Rauch/AP

‘Beyond the Best Dressed’ covers nearly 100 years of fashion moments, opening with a throwback to Mary Pickford’s jewel-embellished azure dress from 1930 – detailing how the Oscars ‘spectacle and splendor’ probably would have haven’t existed without the ‘Coquette’ star since she was the first to show up to the ceremony in full glamor – and it culminates in the 2016 appearance of ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ costume designer Jenny Beavan at the Awards. Beavan defied convention by wearing a leather jacket and black pants with images from the film, an idea conceived by the costume designer herself.

Zuckerman’s research included filtering newspaper clippings and searching public library archives to analyze what was documented about fashion when various Oscars memorable ensembles were worn. A big priority for the author was to include people who have been historically underrepresented.

"Beyond Best Dressed" mainly focuses on women because of how their fashion is "harshly judged," says Zuckerman.

“Beyond the Best Dressed” focuses primarily on women because of how “harshly judged” their fashion is, Zuckerman said. Credit: MontanaForbes

“The Oscars themselves aren’t very diverse, as the #OscarsSoWhite campaign will tell you year after year, so I wanted to make sure to include people who weren’t part of #OscarsSoWhite, basically,” Zuckerman said. . “I wanted to make it clear that even in 1958, Miyoshi Umeki was the first Asian woman to win an Oscar all those years ago.”

Umeki, who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for “Sayonara,” wore a dark-colored kimono with gold accents at the ceremony. But according to Zuckerman’s book, Hollywood gossip columnists tarnished Umeki’s accomplishment by using dismissive and racist language to describe her and her outfit, calling the actor “a cute thing” in a ” native costume”.

Umeki eventually scratched his name off the Oscar statuette and threw it away, Zuckerman wrote.

Decompress expectations

“Beyond the Best Dressed” contains cultural context for memorable outfits, with the goal of taking a “holistic look at fashion that isn’t just looking at what people wear, but the people who wear clothes,” Zuckerman said. .

To do this, Zuckerman avoided focusing solely on the best and worst dressed lists.

Costume designer Jenny Beavan defied sartorial conventions by wearing a leather jacket and black pants to the Oscars in 2016.

Costume designer Jenny Beavan defied sartorial conventions by wearing a leather jacket and black pants to the Oscars in 2016. Credit: Randy Shropshire/Getty Images

“I wanted to make sure there were those kinds of people in the middle whose outfits told interesting stories but didn’t necessarily fall into one of those two categories,” she said.

Part of that strategy involved uncovering outfits that had been largely forgotten, like Diana Ross’ black dress she changed to the 1973 Oscars after wearing a silver three-piece suit on the red carpet earlier that day. The dress was not photographed as widely as expected in light of projections that Ross would win Best Actress – and thus become the first black woman to win in this category – as the award went to Liza Minnelli instead .

Bob Mackie, who designed both of Ross’ ensembles, told Zuckerman that Ross “was the only one” at the time planning a mid-Oscars costume change.

Zuckerman showcased a selection of menswear towards the end of the book, such as the late Chadwick Boseman’s Givenchy Haute Couture look at the 2018 Oscars, distinguished by silver shoulder embroidery on an overcoat. But she said she mainly focused on women because of how their fashion was “severely judged”.

Actor Chadwick Boseman's 2018 Oscars ensemble is among a selection of masculine looks featured in Zuckerman's book.

Actor Chadwick Boseman’s 2018 Oscars ensemble is among a selection of masculine looks featured in Zuckerman’s book. Credit: VALERIE MACON/AFP/Getty Images

“Especially if the women are nominated, there’s always that feeling of what you’re wearing that becomes kind of a symbol by your side that will forever go down in the history books with you holding your trophy,” Zuckerman said. “There are pictures of Mary Pickford holding her trophy in 1930, so you kind of know if you win it will go down in history.”

“Beyond the Best Dressed” is available now from Running Press Adult.

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Look: “And the Oscar goes to…” (2014)

Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s original documentary chronicles how Oscar night has become a symbol of industry success. It all started when Louis B. Mayer, then head of the MGM studio, created what became the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to thwart union organizing efforts. The documentary features memorable clips such as McDaniel’s acceptance speech and behind-the-scenes pandemonium footage.

IndieWire hosts Eric Kohn and Anne Thompson cover all aspects of filmmaking in their weekly podcast, where they talk about upcoming releases, the future of the film industry, festivals and awards shows. The duo spoke in depth about Oscar snobs and surprises, projected seeds and what to expect from this year’s ceremony.

Top image: Mary Pickford receiving the Best Actress Oscar for ‘Coquette’.


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