Superheroes wear capes — and so do Hollywood’s leading women.
Following a quick audit of last night’s Academy Awards’ red carpet, the superhero’s favoured outerwear choice emerges victorious — as does Natalie Portman, an Oscars’ night wonder woman.
An exercise in fashion activism (or virtue signalling depending on your point of view), Portman’s cape — a bespoke creation crafted by Dior’s Maria Grazia Chuiri — had been quietly embroidered with the names of the female directors “snubbed” by the Academy. But surely it’s the presence of a cape as a red-carpet regular that is the real activism here with long-term Dior ambassador choosing to, quite literally, shield herself from the glare of the world.
Certainly, Portman’s outfit choice stands as a frontrunner on an Oscar’s night in which armoury reigned supreme. She was joined by Brie Larson, who stunned in Celine, and and Janelle Monae, who emerged as an intergalactic Scottish Widow in Ralph Lauren.
Were these caped crusaders poised to save cats from burning buildings or to partake in Batman and Robin-style warfare with the “evil” Academy members who cut Greta Gerwig’s name from the best director category? Certainly, it seemed the barely there spiderweb gowns that populated Oscars red carpets of old had long lost the fight.
This idea of armoury played out in other outfits too. Notably with Billy Porter, the man who has done more for the red carpet’s entertainment value than anyone else in recent years, who chose a feather-trimmed corset by Giles Deacon to prepare himself for the battle for best-dressed and Tamron Hall whose upmarket take on the dog-collar served as a sort of VIP circle for her personal space. Aurora, a Norwegian pop star, emerged as a red carpet warrior to surpass all others in a custom made pyjama suit and hardware turban that looked straight out of Westeros.
Clothing warfare played out more subtly too with heavy-duty embellishment — see Cynthia Erivo’s Versace creation — and the impenetrable silhouette of Olivia Colman’s velvet Stella McCartney gown serving to inject a sense of toughness to the occasion.
The result was a show of strength and solidarity from Hollywood’s leading women — who are no longer comfortable with the Disney princess stereotype that has long plagued them. The notable exceptions, among them Florence Pugh and Saoirise Ronan who opted for awkward peplum trims, only served to confirm this theory.
A sense that these were women looking to their wardrobe choices for protection also emerged. Keen to make her own way where red carpet dressing is concerned, Billie Ellish swapped out skin for Chanel with a suit which she wore buttoned up to the collar. This was modest dressing for the Gen Z generation — and it came with the manicure to match. She was joined by fellow rule-breaker Timothee Chalamet who ditched the obligatory tux in favour of a lux tracksuit by Prada and a determination to prioritise comfort over any sort of need to conform.
It is these red carpet non-conformists who set this Oscars apart from previous years. Not because the result is a roster of gowns that are toe-tinglingly exciting, but because from them comes a sense of individuals doing it their own way. Whether that’s Maya Rudolph swapping out the side-skimming cocktail dress for a Valentino cape gown that looks as easy to wear as a hoodie and a pair of track pants, or Rita Wilson choosing a long-sleeve gown that was basic in the most brilliant of ways — unmistakably these were clothes for women, chosen by women.