About to Win an Oscar: Why it Matters What Nominees Choose to Wear

Leah Bourne
About to Win an Oscar: Why it Matters What Nominees Choose to Wear
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Dressing for the red carpet is tough enough, but once you add in the extra pressure of being an Oscar nominee and dressing for an audience of 40 million in America alone, you’re in a fashion pressure cooker unlike anything else.

“What people at home don’t realize is how much effort goes into one look,” stylist Leslie Fremar who’s working to dress two nominees this year, Reese Witherspoon and Julianne Moore, said. “It’s almost like getting dressed for your wedding, if you had to do it over and over again, creating different looks [each time].”

MORE: Meet the 7 Power Stylists Behind This Year’s Oscar Nominees

If you look back at past Oscar-winning actresses, it’s clear fashion has played a role in how their big night is remembered. Julia Roberts’ choice of a vintage black and white Valentino gown for her 2001 Best Actress win for “Erin Brockovich” cemented her status as a classic movie star in line with Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn.

Halle Berry’s Elie Saab Haute Couture gown for her 2002 “Monsters Ball” win turned her into a fashion icon overnight. And Gwyneth Paltrow’s pink Ralph Lauren gown she wore to scoop up her 1999 Best Actress win for “Shakespeare in Love” helped her achieve the sort of American royalty standing she has today.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Oscar winners who’ve fallen short, fashion wise, haven’t been remembered so fondly. Melissa Leo’s win for Best Supporting Actress for “The Fighter” was almost upstaged by a lacy Marc Bouwer gown that fashion critics didn’t take kindly too (the Daily News called it “a tablecloth of a dress.”)

So, what exactly does it take to have a winning Oscar dress when you might end up taking home a statue? A lot, actually.

Eric Wilson, In Style’s Fashion News Director’s advice for this year’s nominees: “Make a statement but choose a dress that makes you feel comfortable and one that will stand up to a lot of handling because everyone will want to greet you. Think about what that dress will look like at 6 p.m. and 2 a.m. after the parties, and also think about what you won’t be embarrassed to be seen in 20 years from now, because these images will last forever.”

Not wanting to rock the boat, it should come as no surprise that many Oscar-winning actresses over the years have taken safe fashion paths. Armani, for instance, has dressed more winners than any other designer (most recently Cate Blanchett in 2014, who won for “Blue Jasmine.”) As for the style of gown most winners gravitated towards? That would be strapless. Black is the most popular color worn by Oscar winners over the last 80 years (worn by 23 women who nabbed a Best Actress statue), though gold is picking up steam (worn by eight winners.)

Which brings us to the oft-debated stylist conundrum: Whether nominees should purposely match their dress to the Oscar statue. It might sound crazy, but the intent makes sense—if they win, they’ll end up having to pose for hundreds of photos with the prize in hand. It’s something that many fashion critics thought Sandra Bullock took to heart when she turned up at the Oscars in 2010 in a gold Marchesa gown for her “The Blind Side” win.

E! News’ Giuliana Rancic quipped during her red carpet overage at the time: “I think the stylist said, ‘This would look amazing onstage with an Oscar.’”

MORE: Every Single Dress Worn By Best Actress Oscar Winners: An Infographic

Wilson’s take: “That’s ridiculous. Everything goes with gold. Although I will say Meryl Streep looked great in gold Lanvin in 2012 [when she picked up an Oscar].”

Another consideration for nominees is how their dress selection looks and feels in motion should they end up having to walk up to the podium to accept an award. “It doesn’t factor into the choice but we practice walking up the stairs and making sure that they feel comfortable sitting down,” said Fremar.

No surprise, but getting the dress right for the big win is just as important for actresses as it is for the designers who will go down in fashion history alongside them. Designer Tadashi Shoji who has dressed two Oscar winners in the past decade—Octavia Spencer and Mo’Nique—shared that there’s nothing quite like crating a dress for a nominee. “When it comes to a major award ceremony such as the Oscars, there’s definitely extra pressure,” he said.

Still, this opportunity for a designer is like nothing else. “Working with Octavia on her 2011 Oscars gown was one of the most rewarding and unforgettable moments of my career,” Shoji said. “It started with a sketch and, in the end, took over 1,000 hours, a team of 10 and six fittings to complete but it was worth every single minute. I would do anything for her!”

Scroll through the gallery above to take look at what Oscar-winning actresses have worn over the past ten years, and share your favorite gowns in the comments!

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Here, a look back at 10 years of women Oscar winners, and what they wore on their big night.

2005 Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Cate Blanchett in Valentino.

2005 Best Actress Oscar winner Hilary Swank in Guy Laroche.

2006 Best Supporting Actress winner Rachel Weisz in Narciso Rodriguez.

2006 Best Actress Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon in vintage Dior.

2007 Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson in Roberto Cavalli. She also wore another dress that evening by Oscar de la Renta.

2007 Best Actress Oscar Winner Helen Mirren in Christian Lacroix.

2008 Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Tilda Swinton in Lanvin.

2008 Best Actress Oscar Winner Marion Cotillard in Jean Paul Gaultier.

2009 Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Penelope Cruz in Atelier Versace.

2009 Best Actress Oscar winner Kate Winslet in Yves Saint Laurent Atelier.

2010 Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Mo'Nique Imes-Jackson in Tadashi Shoji.

2010 Best Actress Oscar winner Sandra Bullock in Marchesa.

2011 Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Melissa Leo in Marc Bouwer.

2011 Best Actress Oscar winner Natalie Portman in Rodarte.

2012 Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Octavia Spencer in Tadashi Shoji.

2012 Best Actress Oscar winner Meryl Streep in Lanvin.

2013 Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Anne Hathaway in Prada.

2013 Best Actress Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence in Dior Haute Couture.

2014 Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Cate Blanchett in Armani Privé.

2014 Best Actress Oscar winner Lupita Wyong'o in Prada.

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