Was it the worst night in Oscar fashion history?

Written by Oscar Holland, CNN

This week marks two decades since Hollywood served one of its worst red carpets of all time. On a night of big wins for “A Beautiful Mind” and the first “Lord of the Rings”, the 2002 Academy Awards were – in true Y2K style – showered with spaghetti straps, visible navels and shapeless evening gowns.
At the time, former Cosmopolitan editor Marcelle d’Argy Smith called it a “night of fashion mistakes,” before calling in several stars for their endeavors. Julia Roberts, in a black Armani dress, looked “boring”; Whoopi Goldberg, who hosted the ceremony dressed as a glittering peacock, brought “some kind of circus element to the proceedings”; and Barbra Streisand was “wrapped” in a burgundy velvet “wrap / curtain / curtain”.

Other negative reviews were saved for Best Supporting Actress of the Year, Jennifer Connelly, who opted for an aqua tulle dress and a not quite matching scarf (a shade described by Smith as “pale dung color” and by Scripps Howard news agency as “phlegm color”). Elsewhere, Cameron Diaz split opinions in a floral print dress, 1980s Oscar nominee Sally Kirkland sported a reckless jeweled bindi, and Faith Hill took a painfully literal approach by teasing her take on “Somewhere Over the Rainbow “with a strappy rainbow- colored Versace dress.

Variously described as

Described in various ways as “pale dung” and “phlegm colored”, Jennifer Connelly’s dress was one of the night’s many flops. Credit: Steve Granitz / WireImage / Getty Images

The night, however, will always be remembered for one of the most maligned dresses in Oscar history: Gwyneth Paltrow’s infamous “goth” dress (pictured above). Alexander McQueen’s shapeless creation featured a crumpled taffeta skirt and sheer bodice that left little to the imagination. The actress’s heavy eye makeup and milkmaid braid helped secure the dress’s place on the “worst dressed” lists for years to come.

In a characteristically edgy review of the evening’s looks, longtime Vogue editor Suzy Menkes, then of the International Herald Tribune, wrote that Paltrow, evidently without a bra, “looked like she was going to see her personal trainer.” She (she also described Connolly as “sad as a drowned nymph”). Guardian fashion writer Jess Cartner-Morley meanwhile wrote that the star “got a little cut out” in “gap year braids, goth eye makeup, and clunky jewelry.”

There was probably worse to come. At the Vanity Fair afterparty, “Meet Joe Black” star Claire Forlani wore what can only be described as a sequined armor held up by dangerously thin laces; Selma Blair came in a barely fringed dress that looked more like a shabby tablecloth and Heather Mills went for a quirky two-piece with a belly button. Actress and author Suzanne Somers’ dress could have easily turned into cheap curtains, and TV host Daisy Fuentes showed up in jeans and a blouse, as if she’d forgotten it was one of Hollywood’s most exclusive parties.

The afterparty saw an even more classic Y2K style, like the short top with an open back by Claire Forlani.

The afterparty saw an even more classic Y2K style, like the short top with an open back by Claire Forlani. Credit: Gregg DeGuire / WireImage / Getty Images

The most boring “of all time”

What really bothered the fashion critics was not the well-intentioned flops, but the lack of collective ambition. Just a year after Björk’s unforgettable quirky swan gown, the 2002 red carpet seemed like a mild, low-risk affair.
This may have been for a good reason. Held just six months after the 9/11 attacks, the event was engulfed by exaggerated security and an understandably restrained atmosphere. Armed police stood guard, stars were sent through metal detectors, and fashion watchers who were lucky enough to secure a spot on the red carpet had to undergo new background checks, the LA Times reported. In keeping with the national vibe, numerous stars arrived in respectfully discreet attire, with Reese Witherspoon, Glenn Close, Helen Hunt and Renée Zellweger among the many celebrities who wore black that night.

This was no excuse for Menkes, however. Calling the participants ‘efforts “the most boring Oscar dresses of all time,” the critic singled out Naomi Watts’ non-adventurous corset dress from a “sea of ​​black”, writing that “even Gucci, usually a certified dead for sexy clothes “had made the starry look” sedated “.

Naomi Watts was one of the many stars who opted for low-risk black dresses.

Naomi Watts was one of the many stars who opted for low-risk black dresses. Credit: KMazur / WireImage / Getty Images

Samantha Critchell, then a fashion writer for The Associated Press, was more diplomatic, describing the evening’s red carpet as one of “conservative” fashion that “many stars played it safe”. Looking back, 20 years later, she attributed their style choices not to 9/11, but to trepidation over the growing interest in red carpet style.
“In the early 2000s, fashion became a microcosm for the rest of the world,” he told CNN in a telephone interview. “I started covering the red carpet with Jennifer Lopez’s Versace Dress As He Stuffed (at the 2000 Grammys) – we haven’t done fashion coverage ‘night’ in the ‘news’ media until then.

“We realized those outfits would define you. And I think it had more to do with the rise of fashion as a force in pop culture – and a real-time force – and realizing that people were sitting at home at judge these dresses.

“There was no E! And no pre-show until then, and I think the choices were probably safer because he didn’t know how to navigate that.”

As for the riskier looks, Critchell theorized that many celebrities were “playing against type” by offering something unexpected or different from previous releases. Nicole Kidman’s pink ruffle Chanel gown contrasted with the elegant chartreuse-colored Dior dress she famously wore at the 1997 ceremony, while Jennifer Lopez’s classic gown and bouffant hairstyle were juxtaposed with the more vulgar looks she was for. became famous.

Sally Kirkland sports a bejeweled bindi as part of her gold and silver look.

Sally Kirkland sports a bejeweled bindi as part of her gold and silver look. Credit: David Lefranc / Gamma-Rapho / Getty Images

Paltrow’s dress can also be seen as an attempt to avoid being pigeonholed, Critchell said. “She had been the princess a few years ago (in 1999) in that pink Ralph Lauren dress, and I think she was playing against that,” she added.

“Celebrities haven’t had a chance to show their other sides like they do now. You already know them, what their style is, you know their opinion on everything. But it wasn’t uncommon in 2002, or any of those other years ( pre-social media), for someone to play against what they did before, because they didn’t want to be stereotyped. “

Rays of hope

There were a handful of hits between flops that night. Kate Winslet’s Ben de Lisi one-shoulder dress was widely praised and the men of the evening fared better among critics, with Will Smith praised for his Ozwald Boateng suit and gold tie.
One of the few winners of the evening: Halle Berry in Elie Saab.

One of the few winners of the evening: Halle Berry in Elie Saab. Credit: Steve Granitz / WireImage / Getty Images

There was really only one winner, though, both on the red carpet and on the awards stage. On the way to becoming the first black woman to claim an Oscar for Best Actress, Halle Berry stunned in a dress that transformed the fortunes of her designer, Elie Saab. Like Paltrow’s dress, it consisted of a sheer top and taffeta skirt, though Berry oozed glamor in crimson and champagne, with strategically placed floral details to complete the look.

“I think Halle Berry’s dress has stood the test of time,” said Critchell. “It’s not a dress anyone would wear today, but it was the prom queen. She was expected to win, and as a fashion writer, we were all waiting for her turn. She met the moment; it was memorable and it was right for a better actress”.

Still, while the outfit is now considered to be among the best looks ever at the Oscars, it wasn’t a hit everyone in the night. Cartner-Morley of the Guardian wrote that Berry’s dress, complete with his “flamboyant embroidered fishnet bodice,” offered “a lot to cringe.”

Related video: A brief history of the red carpet

His contrarian portrayal serves as a reminder that good red carpet style is in the eye of the beholder – and so the question of whether 2002 was the worst year for the Oscars depends, as always, on who you ask. Indeed, given the current interest in all things Y2K – a revival that heralded the return of low-rise jeans, crop tops, and butterfly clips – the power of hindsight (and the opinions of fashion watchers from the Gen-Z) may be kinder to the 2002 release than one might expect.

“I don’t think it was the worse-clothed, “Critchell said.” I don’t know if there was ever going to be a moment you could define as that. But it was another era “.

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