Style is not a four-letter word, but don’t tell that to red carpet reporters. They seem to think “fashion” is another F-bomb, banned from broadcast media for being too crude.
Witness the Golden Globes in January, where icons like Nicole Kidman and Julia Roberts were asked about anything but their clothes during lengthy red carpet interviews before the ceremony. Instead, they went on to bore us with tales of their podcasts, marriage, even Kidman’s thoughts on Olympic swimming without ever once mentioning the one thing we had tuned in for.
This fashion phobia started in 2014, when the social-media campaign #askhermore implored interviewers to discuss serious issues on the red carpet, especially with women. Created by actress and producer Jennifer Siebel Newsom (whose husband is California’s current Gov. Gavin Newsom), the project was a well-meaning idea that wrongly conflated politics with Hollywood fashion fandom. No, Hillary Clinton shouldn’t have to discuss her clothes at a debate. But Hilary Swank at the Oscars? Yes, please.
The campaign caused a noticeable drop in designer shoutouts on the red carpet. “We’re nervous if we bring up clothes, we’ll lose face time with the big names or their publicists will get pissed and blacklist us,” one red-carpet reporter confided in me when we covered the Globes two years ago. Indeed, to ensure the A-listers turned up for interviews, networks have shied away from style questions, often asking movie stars about their acting process or activism instead.
As the #MeToo movement crescendoed in 2017, the style shaming got even worse, as if Versace’s sex-bomb gowns made Harvey Weinstein a creep in the first place.
By last year’s Golden Globes, stars like Natalie Portman and Penelope Cruz forsook fantasy for protest gear, wearing black to declare #TimesUp on workplace harassment.
That’s great, but fashion isn’t a shameful or stupid topic. In fact, it creates art — and jobs — for millions of Americans. If the style shunning continues at the Oscars this Sunday, it could be devastating for a very important industry.
To be sure, fashion wrestles with its own demons — but it also brings jobs: The style sector is one of the biggest employers in America, putting over $250 billion back into our national economy. The Oscars red carpet is itself a million-dollar enterprise, with designer labor making one-of-a-kind couture pieces.
As Hollywood style critics Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan (aka The Fug Girls) put it in their 2019 Golden Globes commentary, when you banish fashion from the red carpet, “none of [the industry’s]hard workers get credit for their labor. That misses the point. You can ask her more and still ask her” about clothes.
In fact, if you care about both artistic expression and American workers, you should.