Oscars 2012: A look back at unforgettable gowns


Grace Kelly, left; Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger. (AP/Vince Bucci/AP)

Let’s pretend that taste isn’t relative. Some gowns inspire, some offend, and others are merely spectacles meant to breed buzz and interview requests. Glorious or hideous, a small selection of these Oscar gowns dominate the morning-after talk show fury. Even fewer are cemented in our collective consciousness, shown again and again every Oscar season, whether or not teenage girls adopt them for their proms.

The iconic gowns, the ones that make us swoon, cringe or start a juice cleanse, are not related to fashion’s seasonal encyclicals. The gal in the most-talked-about gown almost always wins the Oscar and, unsurprisingly, that exposure, plus her glassy-eyed soliloquy, tends to inculcate a look remembered from there to eternity. The dress lives on despite trend, capturing the zeitgeist of an evening and era while staying true to the starlet’s own sparkly je ne sais something.

The proof is in the taffeta.

In 1955, the teal Edith Head silk gown that Grace Kelly wore to accept the Best Actress statuette for “The Country Girl” became the standard for all that is lovely and right and feminine in Hollywood. Two other Oscar winners copied Kelly’s look when they picked up their very own golden idols: Julie Andrews wore a similar silk column gown a decade later, channeling the commoner Grace in white gloves, while Kim Basinger emulated the late princess in 1998 in sea-foam green when she won Best Supporting Actress for “L.A. Confidential.”


Cher, left; Barbra Streisand (Lennox Mclendon/George Birch/AP)

Diane Keaton, too, proved that working actresses could dress like working girls, a sartorial statement in step with her beloved “Annie Hall” character, for which she won an Oscar in 1978. The masculine ensemble has never appeared in a “Best Dressed” montage, indicating that it continues to serve its purpose quietly.


Gwyneth Paltrow, left; Halle Berry, top right; Charlize Theron, bottom right (ap/Doug Mills/Kevork Djansezian/AP)

Helen Mirren (Gary Hershorn/REUTERS)

So, the gowns (and their substitutes) live on, bearing up the past and showing a window into our collective taste at the most-hyped bellwether of the year. And whether the gowns debut on best or worst lists, these actresses continue to prove that accolades are always the most unforgettable accessories.

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Katherine Boyle reports on arts, museums and culture for the Style section.

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