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13th March 2023

The development of red carpet fashion 

Sam Smith wowed at the BRITS when they turned up in a latex one-piece. But red carpet looks haven’t always been so outlandish. We take a look at their progression over the years
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The development of red carpet fashion 
Photo: Fim Star Vintage @ Flickr

Sam Smith turned heads when they showed up to the 2023 BRIT Awards in a custom-made, inflatable latex one-piece suit. The outfit itself, by designer Harri, garnered lots of negative attention from the press and on social media. However, this outfit is not the first outlandish awards look.

With events like the Met Gala pushing designers to challenge their scope of creativity, current red carpet looks seem to be a far cry away from the old Hollywood glamour which used to be synonymous with award shows. So, we’re looking back at how the red-carpet look developed from its high fashion origins to the looks we see today.

Hollywood Glamour, 1920s-1960s

Dubbed the ‘Golden Age’ of Hollywood, the first red carpets were dominated by traditional black ties and Hollywood glamour. Whilst men wore classic black suits, women almost always wore floor-length formal dresses.

The epitome of this era’s fashion can be seen with ‘it girls’ Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly – who both won the Oscar for best actress in 1954 and 1955 respectively. Hepburn wore a white floral Givenchy gown with a boat neckline, whilst Kelly opted for a ‘blue champagne’ coloured, silk dress by the designer Edith Head. Towards the end of this period, more attention was drawn to the red carpet and its fashion displays, rather than solely the award show.

 Individuality, 1970s-1980s

Entering into the late 1900s, celebrities began to incorporate their personal style into runway looks. Although their outfits were still within the confines of traditional fashion, celebrities realised that creativity could gain mass publicity.

Key looks of this period include Barbra Streisand’s purple jumpsuit, which she wore to the 1969 Oscars when collecting the award for Best Actress. Not only were jumpsuits new to the runway, but the outfit actually turned sheer under the harsh lights- something that gained mass media coverage. Ultimately, looks from the period were great for personal expression, an idea that celebrities such as Madonna and Cher embraced.

The rise of the designer, 1990s-2000s

At the turn of the century, celebrities were no longer dressing themselves, and turned to designers to showcase their looks. This new wave of red-carpet fashion was spearheaded by Giorgio Armani. His ability to use celebrities as models for his new designer and effectively turn the red carpet into his own runway was essential to increasing brand awareness amongst the public.

Once designers realised they could use celebrities to showcase their range, it was only a matter of time before all mainstream celebrities were working with brands on the runway. Memorable fashion moments of this time include Halle Berry’s 2002 Elie Saab look. On the runway, reporters (led by mother-daughter duo Joan and Melissa Rovers) began to ask the question, “Who are you wearing?” This question increased media coverage for the designers and drew attention to the people behind the outfits, effectively making designers celebrities themselves.

Fashion as a statement, 2010s-2023

Most recently, fashion has been used as a chance for designers to address political or social ideas (see Joy Villa at the 2019 Grammy Awards and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at the 2021 Met Gala).

This era of red carpet looks is also inspired by events such as the Met Gala. The exhibition, which first began in 1948, has become a media sensation and dubbed the “Super Bowl of Fashion”, with previous years having themes like ‘Heavenly Bodies’, ‘Camp’, and ‘Punk: Chaos to Couture’.

These themes have inspired designers to create more outlandish and abstract pieces of fashion on the red carpet. Furthermore, designers now capitalise on social media to increase brand awareness and invite the public to judge their designs. However, it goes without saying that overexposure within the modern media means that it takes a bold look such as Sam Smith’s to gain headlines and ignite discussion.


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