Monday, Feb. 23 at 11 a.m. ET

Robin Givhan on Red Carpet Oscar Fashion

Pale colors and shades of red and pink predominated on this year's Red Carpet, as did the designer penchant for the one-shoulder gown. Despite the depressing down economy, the stars came out tonight and shone.
Robin Givhan
Washington Post Fashion Editor
Monday, February 23, 2009; 11:00 AM

Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Robin Givhan talked about the fashion hits and misses at the Oscar ceremonies.

The transcript follows.

Givhan column archive

Oscars: Full Coverage.


Robin Givhan: Good morning everyone. Looking forward to chatting about Oscar fashion....


D.C. Expat: Robin, this is a logistical question:

On the red carpet, Marisa Tomei noted that her dress of layered pleats didn't arrive until that morning.

With a dress that dramatic and structured, how would Versace have transported it to her home or hotel (wherever she was dressing)? It didn't look to have a wrinkle on it, and that's a dress that looks like it should have taken half a day to press in the most gentle manner possible.

I loved the dress -- it was so interesting and a different play on the concept of tiered ruffles that you saw in several places last night.

Actress Marisa Tomei, nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her work in "The Wrestler," arrives for the 81st Academy Awards Sunday, Feb. 22, 2009, in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

Robin Givhan: I love a question that comes with an illustration. I might have been going to refresh my bowl of pretzels when Tomei noted her dress had only arrived that morning...My guess, based on the shipping of couture gowns, is that the dress probably arrived on a dress form, upright, in a box the size of a subzero refrigerator. Thus requiring no ironing or steaming. Believe me, that dress was not crunched into a garment bag in some first class cabin...


Houston: Hi Robin, Wondering if anyone else shares the feeling that stars like Beyonce, Miley Cyrus and Jennifer Lopez are overpromoted/sold to the point of nausea? Even 15 minutes can seem too long in some star-shelf life.

Robin Givhan: Okay, let's just get this out of the way. I thought that dress Beyonce was wearing on the red carpet was hideous. Horrific. I seem to recall someone saying it was from her own collection. Blech! Miley's dress looked like it was something left over from the wardrobe department of "Enchanted." Waaaay to big and doll-like. And yes, I agree that it was really unnecessary to have Beyonce perform. Is she now the official performer at all large events? Give the girl a rest.


Strapless gowns: I have a fit question. When a woman wears a strapless gown, is there SUPPOSED to be a little bit of breast hanging out over the top of the gown on the sides? I see that so often that I wonder if I'm wrong in thinking that it's a fit issue. I've always thought that a strapless gown was supposed to entirely contain the breast, both on the side and the front. Your views?

Robin Givhan: In Hollywood and on the runway fit has totally different rules. I'd say that a pencil skirt on the runway or on a Hollywood actress is about 50 percent tighter than the average woman would wear it. That said, I thought Sarah Jessica Parker looked like her chest was going to explode out of that Dior couture extravaganza. Actresses like to look as thin as possible and that can attribute to excessive tightness. But in the real world, a little cleavage is nice, but the girls should not look like they are trying to escape an organza prison.


Bloomingdale, D.C.: Can't decide, do I like Reese Witherspoon's dress or hate it?

Robin Givhan: You hate it. Really, trust me. It looked like it couldn't decide what to be. And was it just me or did she look like she had serious dark circles under her eyes? Reese looked a bit pooped.


Minneapolis: Hi Robin -- Thanks for taking questions today. I really look forward to your analysis. What's with the "I'm too cool to straighten my tie" look among some of the men? I'm thinking in particular of Jack Black and Danny Boyle. Fine for a hip downtown party, but come on, it's the Oscars. Suck it up and button that top button. You can always loosen things up when the show's over.

Robin Givhan: Hey Minneapolis! I think a lot of guys just can't shake off their inner rockstar/teen slacker/Peter Pan/rebel. Someday they will grow up and realize that there is a reason the tuxedo has endured all these generations with very little change. Men look great in them. I know Mickey Rourke is, well, Mickey Rourke, but I think he'd have looked so much better in a traditional tux instead of that Gaultier craziness. A tux with the mad max hair would have been fine. As it was, he really just looked like he needed a bath.


Fairfax, Va.: 1. Tilda Swinton's dress.

2. Phillip Seymour Hoffman's knit cap.

Were these as mortifying as I thought they were?

Robin Givhan: I cannot begin to understand PSH's hat. Maybe he had a head cold? It was extremely odd. But, and I know this will be controversial, I LOVED Tilda Swinton. I thought she looked incredibly chic and sophisticated. My love for that beige top knows no bounds. It was so understated. So Tilda. LOVE.


Washington, D.C.: Dearest Robin: thanks for letting your boyfriend Tim Gunn work the red carpet, I thought he was going to confer the medaille d'or right there on Anne Hathaway.

By the way, did Ms Cyrus's gown come with a banjo?

Robin Givhan: If I knew how to create a "heart" on my keyboard, I would write I "heart" Tim Gunn. But I think most folks know that. I loved how he just cut to the bottom line: the dress. He did seem especially enamored with Anne Hathaway's dress. (Armani, btw.) I thought it look beautiful on her and she deserved major kudos.

Miley, Miley, Miley. Lordy. That was a mess of a dress. Way too Glenda the Good Witch. Plus she said it weighed a thousand pounds.


Washington, D.C.: Sarah Jessica Parker looked like the good witch Glinda. I just don't get that woman.

Robin Givhan: ok, there were two good witches. and not that I'm ageist, but SJP is a little too sophisticated and mature for all that poofery. and with her perfect little yoga'd think she'd want to show it off a bit more.


It's no fun: when the gowns are all in such good taste. (Though it is a pleasure when someone hits the mark so well - a shout-out to Marisa Tomei.)

Is this just a temporary aberration or has all the red carpet machinery filtered out the stars' quirks and risk-taking?

Robin Givhan: I think that it will be rare to see anything as spectacular as a Bjork in a swan ever again. Rare is the actress who will willingly put herself out there to be mocked. Anyone trying to put bad taste on the red carpet will have to fight their way past Giorgio Armani/Versace/Cavalli.


Washington, D.C.: Please, please,please -- tell Sarah Jessica Parker to STOP!!!!! Why does she always want to look like the Tooth Fairy? Make her stop!! She's too long in the tooth. Stop!

Actress Sarah Jessica Parker arrives at the 81st Annual Academy Awards held at Kodak Theatre on February 22, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

Robin Givhan: Maybe it's some sort of elementary school fantasy that she's still trying to work out...


Washington, D.C.: Hi Robin, I'm torn - people like Anne Hathway and Jessica Biel played it safe (zzz), yet some of the risks (see Beyonce, Melissa George in mermaid dresses) were hideous! Thank goodness for Tilda Swinton, Halle Berry, Heidi Klum and Marion Cotillard. What do you think?

Robin Givhan: I basically think that they all play it safe....although one woman's safe could be another woman's avant garde. I didn't mind Jessica Biel's gown, which was reportedly Prada. I didn't think it was particularly safe, that's for sure. A poofy bodice is not standard issue Oscar attire. Klum's dress was sexy but I'm not sure about all of those bracelets working their way up to her elbow.

And frankly, I just didn't get Marion Cotillard's gown. I thought it made her look about 100 years old. Halle Berry looked gorgeous. But then, she's Halle Berry.

I thought Taraji Henson (sp?) looked fantastic. And I thought Angelina Jolie was looking quite chic.


Miley's dress: I agree that Miley's dress wasn't a sophisticated choice, but I think it's exactly the kind of "fairy tale" dress that a girl her age would have loved to wear. I can't blame her for wanting to wear something like looks a left-over from "Enchanted". In fact, I'm rather relieved for her that she didn't wear something more sophisticated and mature.

Robin Givhan: You make a good point. And I certainly would not have wanted to see her in some low-cut, high-glam number. But she reminded me of a little girl all dolled up for Easter Sunday in so many ruffles and bits of lace that she gets lost. I couldn't see Miley for the dress.


Gaithersurg, Md.: I loved Penelope Cruz's dress. She said it was old/vintage. Where do people find vintage dresses?

Penelope Cruz walks the red carpet before winning her Best Supporting Actress Oscar. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

Robin Givhan: Maybe I have something against big poofy white dresses. I was not loving Ms. Cruz's choice. I'm not sure where she found this particular gown, but lots of stars go to places like Decades and Lily, etc., in L.A. Sometimes, they've also worn gowns that have come directly from the designer's archives...see Julia Roberts in her vintage Valentino when she won her Oscar.


Springfield: So many white dresses this year. Do you think Michelle Obama's inaugural dress was an influence?

I thought both Taraji P. Henson and Anne Hathaway looked particularly lovely.

Robin Givhan: Yes, i think we should attribute all fashion trends to FLOTUS just because it makes for a much better story! I was searching for a little J. Crew on the red carpet, but alas, none spotted. I tend to think that all the white was a way of being a little more understated without resorting to black and without taking the risk of a bold color. Or maybe they just all got together and made a pact. I liked Taraji's Cavalli gown quite a lot.


Jolie: Did someone tell Jennifer Aniston that Jolie was wearing black so she could wear white? JA looked terrific for having just turned 40.

Robin Givhan: All I could think of during Jennifer's time on stage was whether Jolie was glaring at her from the front row...Jennifer looked great. Jolie looked great. Pitt looked fantastic. It was all good.


Robles Junction, Ariz.: Just wanted to put in a vote for my favorites: Marisa Tomei & Tilda Swinton. Can't pick only one! Marisa's dress was amazing & beautiful to look at. But I have a practical question: How can she negotiate a long evening in a dress like that? Looked like it draped at least a foot onto the floor all around. On the red carpet, caught a glimpse of her needing someone to help position the dress before she could pose. Never having had the opportunity to don such beautiful couture, I can't imagine.

Tilda Swinton is always so interesting. Thought the color of her gown with her own coloring was just perfection. She looks so elegant among all the over-the-top dresses. And this year, her lack of eye makeup made her look beautiful, not just washed out like last year.

Two more I liked: Anne Hathaway and, perhaps not quite so much, Alicia Keyes. Alicia's dress was beautiful and so was she, but her hair and makeup were perhaps a bit much.

All the men (except Mickey Rourke) were beautiful!

Thank you, Robin, for your wonderful writing.

Tilda Swinton walks the red carpet. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

Robin Givhan: Ah, the opportunity to gush over Tilda again. Tilda rocked.

As for Tomei, that was a lot of gown to maneuver, but since it was not encrusted with crystals and such, I suspect it was relatively light. It would require it's own fluffer on the red carpet to get the train spread out just right, but other than that, I'd think it would be a lot easier to move around in and sit in for hours than some of those waist-clinching princess gowns.


Washington, DC: My question is what exactly does vintage mean? I don't get it. A dress is vintage because it is old? Doesn't this mean that it has been worn before? Is this a fancy way of saying something is second-hand?

Robin Givhan: Welcome to fashion-speak. Vintage basically means the dress is not from a recent collection. It could be 10 years old or it could be 30 years old. With this level of fanciness and quality, the dress might have been worn once before. It may only have been worn only on the runway. Trust me, no one's trying to figure out how to get old wine stains and the smell of mothballs out of these frocks.


Washington, D.C.: Eh, I'm so over Brangelina. Between the 10 million shots of them during the show, their obvious disdain for red carpet interviews, and the embarrassing way the E! reporters and Tim Gunn fawned and squealed over them, do you think they are going to start experiencing a backlash? I sure hope so.

Brad Pitt, nominated for an Oscar for best actor in a leading role for his work in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," and Angelina Jolie arrive for the 81st Academy Awards Sunday, Feb. 22, 2009, in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)

Robin Givhan: I think Brad and Angie are safe from a backlash as long as they stop trying to create their own personal United Nations little league team. It's the adopting and baby-making that created the insane, excessive publicity. (Shame on the public!) Their movies don't create anywhere close to the hysteria that their private lives do. Honestly, did ANYONE other than the members of the Academy see "Changeling?"

And they both did look great.


DC: Really, you're praising Angelina Jolie? Sure, she looked totally fine -- she's beautiful and has a great body so she's going to look good in most things, and certainly that dress was better than the schmattes she's worn to other events recently, but when you're that hot, can't you wear something more interesting? She and Diane Lane looked pretty identical as well, which is what happens when you wear basic black. Maybe for a movie premiere or as a nominee's date, but since you're a nominee, you should make more of an effort...

Robin Givhan: I think Angie made an effort. And I think it's absolutely possible for a beautiful woman with a great figure to have a fashion crisis. I thought Angie looked graceful. And frankly, I'd rather see safe and gorgeous, than risky and scary.


Bill Maher: What was up with that suit? Was it pleather? Claymation? Gak!

Robin Givhan: I found Bill Maher's suit to be quite possibly the worst ensemble of the evening. It looked like it was made of foam or something. And his blathering about his movie on religion did not make him any more endearing.


Washington, D.C.: Amy Adams's dress/necklace choice: Thoughts? I was thinking the necklace was over-much for the dress and that a bare neck and delicate dangling jewels might have worked better.

Robin Givhan: I frankly liked the necklace -- Fred Leighton, I believe -- better than the dress. The jewels were interesting and unexpected. the dress was pretty, but not particularly surprising. And I'm not a huge fan of redheads in red.


Bethesda, Md.: What did you think of Kate Winslet -- I was slightly disappointed. I thought her dress was lovely but compared to her other Oscar dresses (especially that gorgeous mint Valentino), it missed the mark...I also wish she did something different with her hair - it made her look so much older.

British actress Kate Winslet accepts the Oscar for best actress for her work in "The Reader" during the 81st Academy Awards Sunday, Feb. 22, 2009, in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Robin Givhan: The dress was only okay, I thought. The hair was, uh, curious. I agree with your assessment. It was aging.


Arlington, Va.: Robin Roberts of ABC was actually wearing J. Crew and I thought it was beautiful...great coral hue, very flattering halter neckline and she looked comfortable and elegant while interviewing the celebs.

Robin Givhan: Well, then Kudos to Ms. Roberts. She did look lovely.


Arlington, Va.: After a couple years in which all the gents seemed to be wearing long ties with their tuxes, I noticed a lot more classic bow ties. Is the long tie with formalwear on its way out?

Robin Givhan: I wouldn't say it's on its way out. But a lot of the men seemed to be going more traditional, which I thought was nice.


Arlington, Va.: What did you think of Meryl's dress?

Robin Givhan: Ah, dear, dear Meryl. She has had her fair share of award show gowns that have not done her justice. But this time, I thought she looked elegant. Oddly, that shade of gray really looked wonderful on her. I believe it was Alberta Ferretti. I thought the softness of the bodice was quite flattering. I put her in the Tilda Swinton, super-sophisticated category.


Madrid, Spain: I've seen on the's poll that Tilda Swinton is winning the "Worst dressed" context, and it has surprised me, since I found her absolutely elegant. I would like to know your opinion about her an about Penelope Cruz. Thank you very much

Robin Givhan: Hi Madrid,

I do not know what to make of the polling numbers you're describing other than to say Tilda was not in typical Hollywood glitz. And that's why I loved her style. But that might be why she left some folks cold. Penelope was another one of the wedding cake girls.


Maryland: Robert Downey Jr. looked amazing last night -- what is he doing to look better every year? Unbelievable.

Robin Givhan: it's amazing what shaving -- and what appears to be healthy living -- can do for a person. He looks great.


Boulder, Colo.: Robin, THANK YOU! I, too, thought Beyonce's dress was dreadful. It's from her mother's line House of Dereon. Just because someone has a famous daughter does not mean they know how to design clothes!

Can someone please hire a stylist for Sophia Loren?

Robin Givhan: I was stunned by Sophia's Armani dress. Yikes! It was ruffle-mania. It was a dress better suited to a debutante. Sophia has the age, the figure and the carriage to pull off something drop dead sophisticated. I longed to see her in something more elegant.


Virginia: No redheads in red? As a redhead, I say, wrong! I think the problem with Amy Adams was the trim on the dress not going with the necklace. A plain red dress + that necklace would have been amazing, and the dress with some other jewelry OK. But the necklace was so special it needed to go with a plainer dress. Too bad because she could have looked awesome...

Robin Givhan: Okay, I did not to malign all redheads. (Although I think they tend to look incredible in greens/browns/camel.) I'll just say I didn't find this red dress flattering on that redhead.


Washington, D.C.: Serious question - how do these ladies actually sit down all evening without the dresses ripping? I have always wondered this!

I thought both Heidi Klum's and Jessica Biel's hair looked horrendous!

Robin Givhan: Did not love their hair. Jessica's looked too messy and Heidi's looked too dominatrixy.

About the ripping, I'm assuming you're referring to the fact that they look poured into these dresses? I'm assuming the designer leaved a few extra millimeters to allow for the joints to bend...


Robin Givhan: Thanks everyone for your questions!


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