Broadside: Dressing down for the big awards is no rebellion

Tanya Sweeney: Why waste the opportunity to bask in the famed glamour of Oscars night with total abandon?

Jenny Beavan at the Baftas; and Kate Winslet at a previous Academy Awards ceremony. Photographs: Getty Images

Jenny Beavan at the Baftas; and Kate Winslet at a previous Academy Awards ceremony. Photographs: Getty Images

 

Today’s press coverage of last night’s Oscars is sure to be a Top Trumps of slinky gowns and sartorial wildcards. It is the pivot upon which the entire spectacle hangs. There has, however, been a change in the game.

Last year battle lines were drawn over red-carpet sexism, prompted largely by actresses taking a stand against reporters asking little more than “Who are you wearing?” A campaign has seen to it that this line of inquiry has been shunted down in the shuffle, now more of a postscript than anything.

And, in a bid to redress the balance, an entirely redundant move: male stars are now being pointedly asked about their nondescript monkey suits.

There is no escaping it: Hollywood is very white and very male. It is a bafflingly conservative battleground where the macho tent-pole reigns and women older than 40 get killed off within two scenes (Juliette Binoche’s words, not mine).

The statistics are disheartening and hint at a misogyny not likely to shift for several generations. Among the top 100 films of 2007-2014, nearly 70 per cent of the characters with speaking roles were male. The first and to date only woman to win the Academy Award for directing is Kathryn Bigelow, for The Hurt Locker in 2010.

Some appear to be under the misapprehension that those buying into this couture parade, whether as spectator or participant, are compliant in peddling this inequality; that the women are simply there to be looked at, ogled and judged as bedazzled, simpering show ponies.

To show an interest in hemlines and shoulder-kicks and couture details seems to be beneath some award-show attendees. Rather notably, Jenny Beavan – the costume designer behind hundreds of show-stopping outfits – was the most-talked-about Bafta winner this year when Stephen Fry joked, controversially, that she had “come dressed as a bag lady”. For someone presumably attempting to fly below radar, Beavan stood out.

She couldn’t care less

Oscar nominee Emma Donoghue also dismissed questions about her plans to dress up for last night’s ceremony. “I’m not wearing anything too fancy but I’ll be happy in it,” she said. “I’m not borrowing a dress. I’m just wearing one of my own and I couldn’t care less.”

But here’s the thing. This is Donoghue’s moment of triumph, hopefully the first of many. It should be a moment of celebration, where her talent and hard work have been recognised in front of her industry peers on a global stage. Okay, so fashion is not everyone’s primary concern and that is fine. But why waste the opportunity to bask in Hollywood’s famed glamour, to fall down the rabbit hole with total abandon?

It might not be necessary to have a glam squad to make an Oscar winner feel like a million dollars, but is it somehow beneath the intellectuals to go all out and join in the fun?

There is something about not making a sartorial effort – to show up defiantly in jeans and a leather jacket, as Beavan did – that smacks less of rebellion and more of a dimming of the achievement at hand.

Mirror practice

Just like Kate Winslet, I would stand in front of the bathroom mirror as a youngster holding a bottle of Dettol and pretend it was an Oscar statuette. Unlike Winslet, I have since won nothing more than a few raffles and the odd argument. I never had designs on being an actor, but I always wanted to be a writer.

Where other youngsters dreamed of the full-blown glamour wedding dresses, I dreamed of Oscar gowns, and what I might say so as to not embarrass myself in a roomful of peers should the occasion ever arise. Oscar dresses were signifiers of success, of hard work rewarded, the glorious armour donned for a lap of honour and a glorious moment in the sun.

Why do so many people still believe that high glamour and seriousness cannot mix? That someone who loves matte lipstick and fake tan and nail art and Lanvin cannot possibly have the brainpower to bone up on the eighth amendment, female genital mutilation, the Mitfords and what’s going on in Basra?

In fact, it is entirely possible to be a feminist and to wail at the gender inequality in Hollywood while also devouring couture creations on a Hollywood red carpet.

Superficiality isn’t a flaw; besides, the world fairly demands that we invest more than a cursory interest in it. What is the point in belittling a woman’s gravitational pull towards glamour and femininity if that is her sport of choice?

Last night, as I do most years, I convened with some close friends, male and female, some actors and directors. We salivated like Pavlov’s dogs at the full-blown glamour over Prosecco and Doritos.

Some have the Eurovision, others the FA Cup Final or the Six Nations, and few belittle them for it. Last night, in my kippy Rathmines flat, was our moment of blissful escapism – and in some cases, the inspiration that might just reignite the fire in the belly; not to get a fake tan or to hit the treadmill, but to create something or make art.

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