Why Can't We Remember What Meryl Wore?
As you'll probably hear about 10,000 times between now and the 89th Academy Awards on Feb. 26, Meryl Streep has been nominated for a lot of Oscars. Like, a lot. This means Streep has probably attended the world's most prestigious awards show more times than many of us have watched the show. She's an impressive actor. An impressive woman. But as many times as we've seen her on the red carpet at such a fashion-focused event, the same thing remains true: People usually aren't talking about what she's wearing.
For as long as I can remember, I've watched the Oscars for the gowns. I remember my jaw dropping when I saw the back of Hilary Swank's navy gown in 2005. I always wait in anxious anticipation to see what Cate Blanchett is wearing. Halle Berry's famous floral dress is carved into my mind as being flat-out magnificent. The Oscars, which are notoriously stuffy and which I quite frankly find to be kind of boring, are all about fashion if you ask me.
Imagine the Oscars without the dresses for a second. Take away that and drinking champagne on the couch for no reason at all and you're left with a pretty bland ceremony of mostly white, always rich people. Not exactly thrilling. This is arguably why Oscars fashion has become as blown up as it is now. For any modern awards show now, the hottest actress' outfits are discussed at length before, during, and after the show itself. The dress choice of a nominated actress has become where the focus is, rather than the work of the actress itself. But not when it comes to Meryl Streep.
Perhaps you can vaguely recall a Streep gown of year's past. If you're like me, something off-the-shoulder and drape-y comes to mind. "Something black and white, maybe?" you'll ask yourself as you wrack your brain to figure out what why the hell you can't remember. And it's not just that you can't remember one or two dresses (after all, she has been nominated 20 times), but for some reason all of them have slipped your mind. Streep's Oscar gowns are nothing compared to her Oscars, of course, so maybe this would seem mundane to most people. But for someone who both admires Streep and lives for red carpet fashion, this lapse in memory really got me thinking about what made Streep and her gowns different.
After a deep dive into red carpet archives and interviews, I was surprised to find that people do often ask Streep who she's wearing — she even tends to mention the shoes, too. But if she is indeed asked about her outfit, the conversation about fashion is much like it is with men on the red carpet. The interviewer asks the designer, and quickly moves on to the next topic. Take this 2010 ABC interview where the time spent discussing Meryl's dress (which is stunning) is a whopping 4 seconds. Or this interview from the 2009 Oscars in which the interviewer doesn't directly ask Streep about her gown at all — instead, asking her daughter about her experience of picking a dress to wear, with Streep chiming in about her own.
One theory I had when I launched into the mystery of Streep's dresses was that I would soon be reminded that her looks were all boring, or otherwise unremarkable. But in fact, this wasn't really the case either. Many of them are either classically stunning, or clearly a Fashion Police highlight. Yes, some are comparatively plain in terms of Oscars fashion. But the majority of them are dresses that should certainly qualify as memorable. A majority are dresses that aren't that different than major, praise-worthy gowns of Oscars past.
Just look at Streep's 2010 Chris March dress when compared to Gwenyth Paltrow's much talked-about white Tom Ford dress in 2012. They're not all that different. The thing about Streep's presence as a woman on the red carpet is that, well, people do #AskHerMore. Like men walking the red carpet, the matter of who designed Streep's outfit is treated as a necessary formality before getting to the good stuff. This isn't usually the case with other actresses — at least not in the same way. And while it's clear that interviewers and journalists are making more of an effort to to ask women bigger questions, Streep's red carpet presence seems to have always been treated a bit differently than other actress'.
Meryl Streep is arguably (although our current president might disagree) the most legendary actress of our time. She's respected, revered, and admired. And, when it comes to the red carpet, she's often treated like a man when it comes to what she's wearing.
Maybe it's because she's older. Because she's never been a sex symbol in the traditional sense of the term. Or because she's incredibly respected in her field. Perhaps it's all of the above. But even if it's just one of those things, the fact remains that she is (and has been for a long time) #AskedMore, while other female nominees are often not. She was #AskedMore before the hashtag existed — before people even questioned why women on the red carpet should talk about more than their gown, or their jewelry. And this simple fact is representative of a deep and ugly vein of sexism that still exists within the entertainment industry, even if people want to insist it's dead and gone.
And it doesn't matter that Streep never wanted to be a fashion icon (as she's said before in interviews), either. Because, regardless, Streep does have style — even if it's often dismissed or ignored as trivial due to her status in the industry. You can be stylish and a talented, respected actress just like you can enjoy fashion and expect men and women will be treated equally on the red carpet. None of these are mutually exclusive concepts.
The fact that people like me enjoy watching the Oscars for the fashion doesn't change the fact that women on the red carpet should be treated the same exact way their male counterparts are — and the same way that older, "more respected" actresses are treated as well.
It shouldn't take a particular age, or interest in fashion, or certainly not how sexy or conventionally beautiful you are generally perceived to be by the public for this to be common knowledge. It shouldn't take any sort of qualifier at all to be asked more than about who designed your outfit.
Because, ultimately, what every actress at the Academy Awards wants to be recognized for is the same thing that Meryl Streep wants, and that's their acting ability. Not their dress.