Patricia Arquette, dressed in a black-and-white ensemble with an asymmetrical bodice by Rosetta Getty, was the first nominee to promenade down the 87th Oscar red carpet and she came locked and loaded with a message to those who would obsess about what actors are wearing. She was too busy working on her charity — the one that’s focused on eco-sanitation, in case you were wondering — to get a manicure. So no, she would not be able to appease the “silly” mani-cam, Arquette told Ryan Seacrest, host of pre-award coverage on E!, the cable network that popularized the offending technology.


Patricia Arquette walks the Oscars red carpet. (Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

The maligned mani-cam had already been booted from the red carpet, but Arquette’s broader message reflected a simmering rebellion on social media about the way in which actresses are objectified on the red carpet. While such notions as the 360-degree glamour cam was a vertigo-inducing affront, it was still misplaced anger. A crowded red carpet is a place for light banter and sweet compliments — a place to ooh and ahh — and to interject the most cursory of social commentary.

[Oscars 2015 live coverage: Red carpet hits and misses; complete list of winners for the 87th Academy Awards]

It has also become, with the enthusiastic support of actresses, a place for professional branding through the medium of fashion. Men, too, are now taking advantage of that potential.

And at times, the red carpet can be a place of subtle messages about fashion nostalgia and the frock trade’s future.

Lupita Nyong’o re-affirmed her place in the pop culture conversation with a custom gown by Francisco Costa of Calvin Klein that was more jewelry than dress. She was, quite literally, dripping in pearls, looking like an ethereal mermaid who’d risen from the sea. And Rosamund Pike moved the conversation away from hey-didn’t-she-just-have-a-baby  and back to one about her as an actress and what she might do next in her career with the help of a perfectly fitted and wonderfully flattering red, strapless Givenchy gown.

Margot Robbie, who’s best known for her sexy role on “Wolf of Wall Street” and will co-star as another sexy character in “Focus,” chose a demure Saint Laurent gown in black with a low neckline and sheer sleeves. Along with a spectacular Van Cleef & Arpel necklace, the dress offered the audience an alternative image of her.


David Oyelowo, left, and Michael Keaton pose for the Oscar cameras. (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

The men, too, used fashion to set themselves apart. David Oyelowo wore a crimson Dolce & Gabbana tuxedo that uncomfortably called to mind the 1970s and discos. But still, it made a memorable impression of him that was fun and hip — a world away from his work in “Selma.” Common, the cool rapper, wore distinguished white tie from Prada. And Michael Keaton — the Hollywood actor making a comeback in a movie about a comeback — looked rich, successful and dashing in a perfectly tailored Ralph Lauren tuxedo. Keaton didn’t need to wear some rule-breaking suit. His time on the red carpet was best served not just looking like part of the Establishment, but looking like he was part of its board of directors.


Cate Blanchett walks the red carpet. (Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

Fashion is so integral to the Oscars that the choices don’t just speak to the message the actors want to send. They also speak to the state of the fashion industry itself. Sienna Miller represented a nod of sentimentality and sweetness in a black guipuire lace gown directly from the Oscar de la Renta fall 2015 runway — the first collection by the brand’s new creative director Peter Copping. It quietly symbolized the vitality of the house and its next chapter. And Cate Blanchett, known for her willingness to take a risk on the red carpet, as well as her sophisticated eye for fashion, wore Maison Margiela by designer John Galliano. It was the wholly unHollywood choice. The dress was a simple silhouette. It was black. One could make out the fine, unfinished edges around the armholes. It was a subtle gown, which she paired with a lavish turquoise bib-style necklace.

And it was by a designer who is recovering from scandal. Galliano has not simply been welcomed back into the fashion club. He has been returned to the center of our popular culture. His redemption is complete.

Who are you wearing? may be a trite question. But when asked of both men and women, the answer is sometimes intriguingly complicated.

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