Slice through any awards ceremony and you’ll find some sort of political subtext to what people are wearing on the red carpet. Take the proposed move by nominees and presenters at next month’s Golden Globes to wear black which, according to sources, will be one of the biggest red carpet protests to date.
That these Globes will be a flashpoint for protest is not surprising. Since the Harvey Weinstein allegations, the cultural awakening over sexual harassment (and gender inequality) has mounted with such a pace that it has become more revelatory for an actor to say nothing than something, such is the Anti-Harvey narrative right now.
Nor is it surprising that the red carpet will be used as a platform for protest. Of the many acts of sartorial dissent, the most memorable include Jane Fonda who, in 1972, wore a black YSL suit with a Mao collar to collect a best actress Oscar for Klute, at a time when she maintained she was not “dressing for men”.
After the 11 September 2001 attacks, many attendees of the twice-postponed Emmys also wore black trouser suits. Less profound perhaps was Julia Roberts eschewing heels at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival in protest at the supposed flats ban, but God loves a trier.
Things have accelerated recently, with the rise of Donald Trump and his Republican administration. At the Globes last January, Transparent creator Jill Soloway and actor Lola Kirke wore badges that said “Fuck Paul Ryan”. At the Oscars, many wore blue ribbon pins as symbols of solidarity with the American Civil Liberties Union. Safety Pins dominated the SAG awards gowns. Suits, meanwhile, long politicised by the anti-patriarchy movement, appeared with notable frequency at the Globes and Screen Actors Guild awards and last month’s Hollywood Film Awards (the first major awards since the Weinstein scandal), where actors including Dakota Johnson, Kate Mara, Annette Bening and Noomi Rapace wore suits, a low-key if poignant recalibration of an outfit usually associated with, well, men.
The proposed use of black is surprising, given it is a colour widely associated with more militant anarchist movements and most recently Antifa – as well as Black Lives Matter. In 2016, a campaign group staged a protest at the Baftas in London over the lack of diversity in the entertainment industry and wore black and white. Colour has, of course, become one of the most prominent aspects of protest. From the neon green lights that have come to mark the monthly Grenfell Tower fire silent marches, to the sea of pink pussy hats at various women’s marches around the world since Trump’s inauguration.
Of the many sticking points surrounding the use of fashion as protest – a rich but muddled market that occasionally sees brands hijacking causes for financial gain – the issue of women using clothes to send a message can feel old-fashioned, even misogynist. But this is the point, they say. Black is the colour most worn by men on the red carpet. Part of the problem with the Ask Her More campaign – which encouraged interviewers not to just ask actors what they were wearing – was that actors were contractually obliged to wear certain designers. This time, when an actor is asked what she is wearing, she can defiantly say who – and why.