Oscars Fashion: Ballgowns Are Back and Ivory is the New Black

The 2023 Oscars were so much improved compared to the last two. And that goes for the red carpet as well

While it’s easy—and much more fun—to point out the “what were they thinking?” Oscar looks (we’re talking to you, Florence Pugh, Elizabeth Banks, and Halle Berry), let’s be kinder and a little more upbeat, shall we? Since these Oscars were so much improved compared to the last two. And that goes for the red carpet as well.

Cara Delevigne in Elie Saab at The Oscars

All cynicism aside (if that’s possible here), lots of major new red carpet trends emerged: tighty whities (meaning, ivory, almond, and pale body con dresses), boned corseting, shocking orange, magenta—and while ballet core tulle has been trendy high for a while now, it blossomed like all the flowers, rosettes and bows we saw on all these gowns. Cara Delevingne’s gorgeous Elie Saab full-skirted gown in burgundy proved and Stephanie Hsu’s voluminous strapless Valentino: Yes, ballgowns are indeed back.

Allison Williams in Giambattista Valli Couture

Now, about all those puffy sleeves, capes, wraps, and whatever else you want to call them… sometimes they work, sometimes not. Allison Williams’ absolutely stunning pink Giambattista Valli sparkly gown with white feather hem was only enhanced by her pink satin sweeping cape. Nicole Kidman in Giorgio Armani Prive’ knows how to work a big flower shoulder—she’s a tall drink of water; that look doesn’t overwhelm her. The sheer silver cape over Michelle Williams’ white Chanel Couture gown was absolutely angelic. But, how did Valentino Couture fail Florence Pugh so miserably? Or did stylist Rebecca Corbin Murray choose that? Since Pugh has often donned minis and over-the-top looks, it was probably an imperfect storm. The sleeves were bigger than the Chinese balloon and almost as scary. The 1990s bike shorts look called—they want their look back. It was a mistake then—now it’s an anachronism. It didn’t suit her body, her arms, her legs—worst mistake of the night.

Emily Blunt in Valentino Couture

The whiter-shade-of-pale brigade included Michelle Williams in Chanel Couture, Emily Blunt in a bodycon Valentino with gauntlet sleeves (she pulled it off), Michelle Yeoh in a tres’ chic glitter fringed Dior Couture—after a full awards season of black dresses—and Mindy Kaling in a corset-boned Vera Wang gown, which looked a little like an  S&M wedding. Still, she’s lost 40 pounds and looked better than she ever has (she donned the same dress in black to the Vanity Fair party).

Janelle Monae in Vera Wang Custom

On top of black (Lady Gaga’s boned Versace came straight off the runway) or white – or black and white (Vanessa Hudgens in Chanel) – when there was color, it pumped up the volume. I just fell in love with Janelle Monae’s black/orange Vera Wang gown. Monae’s always startlingly dressed – but this color combo, the silk drape, the choker – perfection from head to toe. Congrats to her stylist Alexandra Madelkorn. Hailey Bailey’s aqua tulle tutu by Dolce & Gabbana, Stephanie Hsu’s ripe coral (Valentino, Cate Blanchett’s draped blue/green upper part of her Louis Vuitton gown, bright yellow on Winnie Harlow (Armani). “Tangelo” is what Pantone calls the hue of Sandra Oh’s Grecian Giambattista Valli. Gowns that resemble separates—two-tone, if you will, are suddenly in style, thanks to Monae and Blanchett. No doubt coming to a runway near you. Viva Magenta turned up – the color prognosticators at Pantone brought to our attention that their predicted color of the year was very viva on Delevingne (Elie Saab) and Melissa McCarthy. Also predicted by their 2023/2024 trend reports, colors called Coconut Milk, and Silver Birch was everywhere and anywhere (Zoe Saldana in Fendi Couture).

Jessica Chastain in Gustom Gucci

Speaking of Silver Birch, it’s hard to find anything not working in Jessica Chastain’s Jessica Rabbit look by Gucci. Her strapless silver form-fitting gown, her perfect loose-but-waved Old Hollywood locks by Renato Campos – even her poses were all sultry and bombshell.

Elizabeth Banks in Vivienne Westwood

Now I like a big skirt, a gown with well-placed volume – but a stylist should know where to put it – and on whom to put it. Elizabeth Banks’ asymmetrical black gown over white Vivienne Westwood, with all due respect for the late British designer, was just too much dress for a small woman. Not only did it not flatter her, it literally tripped her up. Normally not a big deal. Unless you’re on a runway, a red carpet or the Oscar stage.

Jamie Lee Curtis accepts the Best Supporting Actress for “Everything Everywhere All at Once” onstage during the 95th Annual Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre on March 12, 2023, in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

I also like gowns with sleeves. Not everyone has Michelle Obama’s arms—and nerve. Women over 50 often choose them and they’re just as striking. Jamie Lee Curtis in Dolce & Gabbana and Sigourney Weaver in Givenchy (both in pale tones) showed off svelte figures in an age-appropriate way. Of course, it all depends on the woman: Andie Macdowell’s sleeveless black velvet Louis Vuitton column was also elegant. Now, mini-skirts after 50 – maybe Gwyneth Paltrow can get away with it – maybe – but certainly not at a black-tie event. Halle Berry’s white Tamara Ralph arrival gown was only mini on one side, with a slit in her gown up to unmentionables – but her Vanity Fair black strapless lace mini looked like she’d gone topless and hiked up her skirt. The wavy hair in her eyes: it all smacked of TTH (trying too hard). Speaking of which – Olivia Wilde’s wardrobe malfunction at the VF after party was intentional—her white gown looked like Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl mishap, with most of her black bra exposed.

FYI, if you think can compete with Rihanna at any awards show, well, you might as well compete with Cate Blanchett when it comes to acting. Queen Rihanna changed four times – that we know of! Riri’s first look was an Alaia Couture brown leather gown created by Pieter Mullen. Second, she was dripping in jewels strapless and lacy pants by John Galliano for Maison Martin Margiela. The third was an aqua two-piece created especially for her by Matthieu Blazy for Bottega Veneta. Not only did her amazing looks vary completely—her choice of designers was edgy—and just so, so, so cool. We still don’t know who designed the silver two-piece with a giant pink cape for Jay Z and Beyonce’s after-party.

Rihanna performs onstage during the 95th Annual Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre on March 12, 2023 (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

As for the guys, Paul Mescal has been the standout of the season. For the Oscars, he wore a Gucci white dinner jacket and white shirt, no tie, a red pocket flower – and flared black pants! Austin Butler was sleek – the opposite of bloated Elvis – in Saint Laurent – but the best part of his look: patent leather Saint Laurent “Johnny” boots – that are known for their (relatively) high heels! Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s Dolce & Gabbana blush satin Dolce & Gabbana tux jacket proved it: real men wear pink.

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