Not long ago, actors walking the red carpet tried to shame interviewers into asking them about more than their clothes — even though so many of those clothing choices were directly tied to lucrative endorsement deals and the red carpet is, in fact, just a star-studded catwalk.
At the first Golden Globe Awards of the new decade, there seemed to be a reckoning with reality — a fashion detente. Stop running away from fashion. Stop trying to drain it of joy.
It’s okay to enjoy fashion. It always has been.
There’s so much distressing news all around. Citizens are multitasking every minute of the day, fretting about climate change, impeachment, Iran, Iraq, the upcoming presidential election, something. Do they really need to hear some actor living their best life go on a 15-second superficial tear about the state of the universe? Host Ricky Gervais didn’t think so and advised the winners to thank their god and their agent and then get the heck offstage.
Gervais was impolitic. So perhaps this lesson was most diplomatically and refreshingly conveyed by the slayer of all red carpets: Billy Porter. As he noted Monday night, “fashion can be activism.”
And with every style choice he’s made recently, as he’s done the award show rounds fueled by his role on “Pose,” he’s made himself unforgettable as a gender-blurring gay man who brims with creativity and personality — memorable to even those who have never seen his show. Porter captures the imagination because his style choices are as outré as they come, but they’re done with precision and intent and pleasure.
For the Globes, he arrived dressed in a white formal pantsuit designed by Alex Vinash, with a cathedral-length train brimming with feathers. The two had begun collaborating long before the nominees and presenters were announced because statement-making fashion takes time, and what is a career in Hollywood other than one built on hope and a dream?
There have long been actors who have used the red carpet to etch their identity into the popular culture: Jennifer Lopez, Cate Blanchett, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kerry Washington. But Porter, who joined these veteran fashion-savvy actresses, seems to have helped open a floodgate for even more adventurousness.
Lopez is noted as much for her style as she is for her music and her acting. Indeed, Lopez the style icon — the one who wore the green, scarf-print Versace dress that was cut down to her belly button — long preceded Lopez the respected actress who has been drawing critical acclaim for her role in “Hustlers.” Her Globes gown was a nod to her legacy of fashion risk-taking. It was essentially a giant emerald green and gold bow. It was Valentino couture, which gave it a certain fashion gravitas and made one pause before finally giving in to that initial gut reaction, which was that it made her look like an enormous Christmas gift. A really beautifully wrapped gift, but still.
Blanchett always seems to be exploring fashion at the graduate school level while all around her are actresses who think a mermaid gown with a high slit is provocative. She wore a yellow pleated Mary Katrantzou dress that had a bedazzled harness neckline. The sleeves looked like strange butterfly wings. The whole thing was oddly zoological yet also irresistible.
Paltrow is another actress who has used fashion as a way of setting herself apart. It takes a lot of nerve to wear a dress that is the color of dung, that is also transparent and that is worn atop a knitted bra. It takes an actress who is unconcerned about fitting in but rather wants to — needs to — stand out. It takes an actress who is supremely confident in her belief that no matter what happens, no matter what people might say, she will be just fine. And so, Paltrow wore a Fendi scrim and an expression of delight.
And what of Washington? Formerly of “Scandal,” recently of “American Son” and soon to be seen in “Little Fires Everywhere,” she wore an Altuzarra black satin skirt and, well, nothing much on top other than silver braiding and a cutaway jacket-like bodice thing that showed off a long expanse of trim torso and bosom. And if there was any message in this ensemble — one worn during that quiet period when actors are not in the midst of promoting their latest work — it seemed to be Do Not Forget How Fabulous I Can Be.
The reminder was duly noted.
Oh, there was so much to take in and digest at the Globes, which are always billed as more informal and raucous than the Academy Awards. Gervais was the tieless host. Jason Momoa was captured in the audience wearing a tank top. Joey King, wearing the work of avant-garde designer Iris Van Herpen, looked like a walking optical illusion. Charlize Theron was seductively dishabille in a Dior gown that was part black corset and part emerald slink. And Taylor Swift, with the ignoble “Cats” still on everyone’s tongue, wore an enormous chartreuse and teal Etro ball gown that did little to reassure her fans that she hasn’t lost her aesthetic footing.
It was splendid to see women choosing more tailored looks, such as Kate McKinnon’s Prabal Gurung sparkling pantsuit and Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Ralph and Russo glittering plaid trousers and jacket. And how nice to see Cynthia Erivo — to really see the woman and not have her overwhelmed by an elaborate mishmash of ruffles and gewgaws. Her embroidered Thom Browne black gown, with its white, off-the-shoulder neckline, was appropriately extravagant and refreshingly refined.
And pockets! The most marvelous aspect of Ana de Armas’s Ralph and Russo navy sequined ballgown may well have been the pockets that allowed her to avoid the awkwardness of what to do with her hands and to project an air of nonchalant glamour.
The Golden Globes were beautiful and strange and occasionally comical. (Thank you to all the grown-up ladies in your pastel, cotton candy, princess dresses and that one bright green satin dress that looked like a giant Christmas tree.)
It was a parade of creativity and personality. It was fashion done right — and in these treacherous days, it was well timed.