Whenever I watch the red carpet portion of any televised award ceremony like the Grammys or the Oscars, I always feel a certain level of discomfort. Don't get me wrong: I love seeing some of my favorite actors and musicians traipse around in beautiful couture dresses. And I can't possibly conceal my excitement when I spot a daringly skin-baring outfit or body positive moment among the homogeneity of tasteful gowns and "flattering" silhouettes. But despite my fascination, I can hardly ever identify with what I'm seeing.
Obviously my bank account contributes to this, since I will probably never be able to afford an Alexander McQueen dress. However, what bugs me first and foremost is the hyper-femininity of the red carpet, and how antiquated ideals of Old Hollywood glamour arguably continue to perpetuate gender norms in fashion.
Despite being a Millennial in 2016, it was still shocking for me to see Zendaya's Bowie-inspired outfit at the 2016 Grammys. Because the red carpet still seems to yield the mindset that androgyny is synonymous with "edgy" and "risky" rather than gender fluid, her ensemble felt bold. Refinery29 described her look as "brave," while the musician's fans exploded over Twitter with their astonishment over the artist's ability to "pull off" menswear. Despite many taking to social media to criticize her mullet hairdo and Ryan Seacrest's seeming loss for words when interviewing her before the big event, Zendaya confidently shut down the haters on her Instagram.
While a good portion of the Internet seemed to come to her defense (save for those who couldn't wrap their heads around the Bowie tribute or the return of the mullet), the praise felt backhanded to me. Sneaky body shaming was expressed in terms such as "pulling off," or in statements glorifying her "bravery" just for wearing menswear, thus implying that masculinity doesn't belong to those assigned female at birth. To me, this all felt symptomatic of the greater misunderstanding of gender in America and beyond.
Even though strides have certainly been made in terms of bringing greater visibility to gender nonconforming individuals and their style — thanks in part to androgynous runway models and Target's gender neutral initiative for its kids' section — the red carpet of most award shows continues to be a space for the most classic ideas of femininity. Very few humans have deviated from this (although things are certainly getting more progressive as the years go by), so time and time again, almost every woman can be seen wearing a dress.
Sure, there are always variations in terms of hemlines and accessories. Will your fave celebrity wear a floor-length gown, or sport a shorter body-hugging garment? Will Jennifer Lawrence be rocking simple jewelry, and what kooky headpiece will Gaga wear this time? But ultimately, women wearing outfits that don't align with an antiquated idea of femininity at some of the biggest nights in Hollywood are seemingly deemed unconventional, boring, or both. Those who wear dresses, heels, and perfectly applied makeup that doesn't make too loud of a statement, well, they are often left alone or put on "best dressed" lists.
When androgyny is as under-represented or misrepresented as it is at award shows, it can feel very exclusionary to other interpretations of femininity as well as gender nonconforming identities. I'm tired of hearing women on the red carpet wearing two-piece outfits, jumpsuits, or masculine blazers called unconventional, regardless of whether the celebrity is said to have "pulled off the look" or not. Continuously labeling anything slightly masculine as unconventional when sported by a feminine person feels completely counter-productive when we consider what a great year 2015 was for trans visibility.
When Zendaya, Julia Roberts, Ellen Page, or any other feminine person rocks a suit to the red carpet, it shouldn't have to be "edgy." With cisgender, gender nonconforming, and trans people alike, gender is fluid. And our fashion choices — despite the gendered associations we've attached to them based on cultural or societal norms — do not dictate those gender identities. What's so odd and unconventional about a woman wearing menswear on the red carpet? Why do we never see masculine-presenting people wearing skirts and dresses at these A-list events (with some exceptions, including the time Marc Jacobs wore a Comme des Garçons dress to the 2012 Met Gala)?
If androgyny is edgy, then I certainly don't think that the red carpet is edgy enough. Even the Grammys, specifically known for the edgier vibe and having boasted Lady Gaga arriving in an egg and Nicki Minaj strutting the carpet with a pope stand-in in tow, still misses the mark for me. Red carpet fashion can take us by surprise and certainly spark interesting conversations about the limits of fashion and art. But there are much fewer outfits and discussions to be had that truly challenge the gender binary. Going forward, I would love to see more androgynous outfits being unapologetically rocked on the red carpet, and accompanied by fewer condescending and borderline transphobic remarks by sartorial taste-makers.
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