Duly noted. This awards season has been weird. The parties have been canceled. The Golden Globes showed the nominees at their homes. The Met Gala, another big spring fashion event, has been pushed to September. So the Oscars would be one of the few chances to have a capital-M Moment, and celebrities knew they had to make it count. Especially with fewer people on the red carpet — only the nominees, their guests and the presenters were invited.
Bold, neon colors and glittery gold seemed to capture the optimism of an industry and a country bouncing back. And crisp whites provided a contrast with a slate of dark films. But, let’s be honest: Seeing anyone wear Real Clothes this year is both “inspirational and aspirational.”
Here are the looks and trends that stood out.
Two jackets paying tribute to those killed by police
Travon Free and Martin Desmond Roe directed the best live-action short winner “Two Distant Strangers,” about a Black man stuck in a time loop that always ends with his death at the hands of a White police officer. They wore custom Dolce & Gabbana tuxedos in black and yellow with the names of people killed by police listed on the inner linings of their jackets.
There were so many possible names that Free and Roe had to choose the ones that were most meaningful to them; Free’s jacket includes Daunte Wright, who died in Brooklyn Center, Minn., just two weeks ago. Free and Roe’s Mache sneakers created more room, and display names including Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.
Regina King’s fantastical ensemble
Regina King’s custom, sky-blue Louis Vuitton seemed to draw inspiration from both the natural and the fantastical, reminiscent all at once of butterfly wings, bluebell flowers and wintry fairy queens. Lest the look veer too far into the realm of the ethereal, however, the director of “One Night in Miami” paired her gown with a blunt, edgy bob.
A golden touch
Dressing yourself like an Oscar statuette is apparently considered to be good luck: At least 23 former winners have swathed themselves in gold fabric, including Emma Stone, Helen Mirren, Cate Blanchett and Rita Moreno. We don’t know if this year’s stars were feeling superstitious or just wanted to sparkle, but the red carpet was especially gilded this year.
Leslie Odom Jr., nominated for best supporting actor in “One Night in Miami,” showed up in a gold Brioni suit, looking — dare we say — statuesque. Laura Pausini, the Italian singer of “Lo Sì (Seen)” from “The Life Ahead,” wore a nearly identical look in a more feminine cut for her pre-show performance.
Then there’s Andra Day, a nominee for best actress for “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” whose draped, high-slit gown was made by Vera Wang in collaboration with an actual welder, because it was made of metal. (You’d never know — it looked as light as a feather.)
Her bandeau silhouette may have been a trend within a trend: Carey Mulligan, too, wore a gold bandeau crop top (the 90s!) as part of her two-piece Valentino gown. Paired with a dramatic, flouncy gold skirt, the dress was one of those instant classics, the kind that dazzles even the most jaded E! hosts. It’s the kind of dress people remember, even if the wearer doesn’t get to accessorize it with a matching Oscar statue.
Chloé Zhao’s normal-sized purse
Chloé Zhao wore comfy shoes. She put her hair in two pigtails. And she showed up to the ABC pre-show wearing a cross-body purse. A cross-body purse! This, on the Oscars red carpet, is a revolutionary act. When actresses carry purses to the awards, they are usually the kind of teeny-tiny bejeweled ones that are only big enough to hold a single lipstick and some blotting paper. Not even a phone! But here was Zhao, with a bag big enough to hold, perhaps, a wallet, and a phone, and maybe even some snacks.
Was it some kind of designer bag, meant to usher in a cross-body trend? When we asked her publicist if she knew anything about the purse, she replied: “The purse is her own. I don’t know the designer.” Now that is inspirational.
Can we talk about Colman Domingo? Because everyone is talking about Colman Domingo.
The actor, nominated for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” wore an embellished neon pink Atelier Versace suit. It was one of the boldest looks of the night, and universally beloved. The details! Those three perfect gold buttons. The thin gold bracelet. But really, it was the color — and, like Domingo, several stars picked a bright shade and fully committed to it.
“Mank” nominee Amanda Seyfried wore a structured and plumed fire-engine red Armani Privé gown that was awash in tulle. Ariana DeBose of “The Prom” walked the red carpet in a tangerine Atelier Versace dress with cutouts, a high slit and a one-shoulder neckline.
Zendaya picked another highlighter color — neon yellow, with a matching mask — and her Valentino cutout gown also featured a bandeau. (90s! Again!) And H.E.R. really, really wore one color head-to-toe: Her royal blue beaded Peter Dundas jumpsuit featured a floor-length cape and a hood.
Laura Dern’s feathered frock
Laura Dern’s relatable wacky aunt vibe is always welcome on a red carpet. So her dress this year did not disappoint: Dern’s Oscar De La Renta gown was what would happen if Steve Jobs were an ostrich: black turtleneck, a million fluffy white bird feathers. It was campy! It was fun! And while there were many nice, serious looks at this year’s Oscars, there were not as many that were whimsical, like Dern’s. She was half of the Bjork swan dress. She was part Muppet. And she looked like she was having a good time.
LaKeith Stanfield going retro
LaKeith Stanfield is never one to shy away from a bold choice on the red carpet. This time, the best supporting actor nominee for “Judas and the Black Messiah” seems to have wanted to linger for a moment in that film’s late-’60s, early-’70s aesthetic: He wore a slim-waisted, thick-belted, custom Saint Laurent jumpsuit with broad breast pockets and a flared collar to the ceremony’s London screening. (According to a representative for Saint Laurent, the ensemble was inspired by a piece from the label’s summer 2021 women’s collection.) Rounding out the retro vibe, Stanfield also wore a pair of tinted glasses.
Visions in white
Maria Bakalova’s crisp, cream-colored custom Louis Vuitton gown inspired comparisons to everything from old Hollywood to fairy-tale princesses. Nominated for best supporting actress for her breakout role as Borat Sagdiyev’s daughter Tutar in “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” the Bulgarian actress chose to remind viewers at her first-ever in-person red carpet that she herself is not the unibrowed and wardrobe-challenged character they met on-screen.
Best actress nominee Viola Davis (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”), best director nominee Thomas Vinterberg (“Another Round”), best original song nominee Tiara Thomas (a lyricist for “Fight for You” from “Judas and the Black Messiah”) and Aldis Hodge (one of the stars of “One Night in Miami”) were also among those wearing white.
Best supporting actor and best adapted screenplay nominee Sacha Baron Cohen (“The Trial of the Chicago 7” and “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” respectively) put his own spin on the trend, pairing cream-colored slacks with a brown tuxedo jacket.
Alan Kim’s asymmetrical soccer socks
Oscars on the top, school uniform in the middle, and … chic international soccer star on the bottom?
Alan Kim, the 9-year-old star of best picture nominee “Minari,” has been charming audiences all year, and his pint-size Thom Browne shorts-tux ensemble — complete with black, knee-high socks with four stripes on the left calf — only took the adorability to an unprecedented level. We’re calling it now: Nephews all over America will be receiving asymmetrical Thom Browne socks for Christmas 2021.
Robin Givhan contributed reporting.
This story has been updated.
Correction: This story initially stated that best makeup and hairstyling winner Mia Neal was wearing white, while she actually arrived at the ceremony in dark blue. It also referred to the short film as “Two Different Strangers” rather than its actual title, “Two Distant Strangers.”