It's reigning men at the Oscars: why experimental fashion ruled the red carpet

It has taken nearly 100 years of Oscar ceremonies, but the time has finally come for menswear to make its mark at the biggest red carpet event in the world. An Oscar appearance can make or break a career and sometimes a look can be too ahead of their time (Bjork’s swan dress in 2001 springs to mind), but never has there been better timing for the arrival of experimental men’s fashion than now.

Billy Porter, the musical theatre star, set the tone for the evening as an early arrival, wearing a custom tuxedo dress by Christian Siriano. It reflected a big moment for him personally and professionally.

“My goal is to be a walking piece of political art every time I show up,” he told Vogue. “To challenge expectations. What is masculinity? What does that mean? Women show up every day in pants, but the minute a man wears a dress, the seas part… I’ve always wanted to wear a ballgown, I just didn’t know when.”

Menswear as a whole is undergoing its own metamorphosis of late, and the idea that it can’t be as exciting as womenswear is being slowly disproven in the most exciting way.

Young actors in particular took their chance to show off their personalities, like The Favourite’s Nicholas Hoult, who wore an all-black Dior suit with a silk wraparound sash – a look which, any other year, would have earned him headlines, but in this, the year of men’s suiting, was barely a blip on red carpet reports.

Black Panther’s Michael B Jordan finished off his tuxedo with a midnight blue velvet smoking jacket by Tom Ford. It was a trend that spanned generations as Best Actor nominee Richard E Grant’s ensemble was carefully considered to mark his career trajectory from character actor to bona fide movie star.

“It’s in a tradition of the English smoking jacket, and the burgundy is really beautiful,” he said. “I thought it was really smart. Almost without exception, any man in a tuxedo looks as smart as paint because even with variations, there’s still an imprint of Cary Grant-slash-Fred Astaire. It fixes people in a very good moment.”

Aquaman’s Jason Momoa, who attended with wife Lisa Bonet, said he asked Fendi make him a custom scrunchie to tie hair back later in the night while still matching his suit. It is these kinds of admissions that are normalising men’s investment in their appearance and while they are still light years away from the scrutiny facing women, the scales aren’t so obviously imbalanced.

The reasons behind this new-found interest in men’s fashion is two-fold: firstly, it’s reflective of the politics and conversations around gender and masculinity and, secondly, women’s styles have become so rehearsed, it’s almost predictable.

There were few surprises on the night and while most guests were undeniably well dressed, there were no notable trends. Lady Gaga did her best to continue her campaign as the most thoughtful celebrity on the red carpet.

She wore a custom black Alexander McQueen dress with balloon skirting and a breathtaking 128-carat diamond by Tiffany & Co that was last worn by Audrey Hepburn in the 1960s.

Shimmering fabrics of all sorts dominated the event, with Glenn Close putting up a worthy fight for best dressed in a gold Carolina Herrera cape gown; Jennifer Lopez shimmered in head-to-toe silver by Tom Ford; Brie Larson chose a similarly-hued halter dress and Amy Adams turned heads in a corseted Versace gown.

Metallics at awards shows are a safe bet – they photograph well and won’t land you on any worst-dressed lists, but you won’t be remembered for years to come. Not in the same way as the adventure seekers.

Loud colours and busy fabrics balanced out the otherwise muted palettes as displayed by Crazy Rich Asians star Gemma Chan’s hot pink ruffled Valentino dress – not only a sign of her high fashion connections, but also an unforgettable introduction to Hollywood if ever there was one.

Chan’s first big box office hit elevated her to the upper echelons of showbusiness after years of grafting in the UK, and she understands that being a movie star is a part all its own, one which requires carefully considered wardrobe choices at major events like this.

Singer Kacey Musgraves adopted a similar style, with tulle layers in cotton candy pink by Giambattista Valli Couture, but the true winner of the most daring of the night (second only to Billy Porter) was Linda Cardellini in a pink plunging ruffled number.

For the rest, there’s always next year.

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