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Does the Oscars have a dress code?

The biggest names in Hollywood will take to the red carpet on Sunday night, but did you know that there are guidelines dictating what they can and can't wear?

Does the Oscars have a dress code?

On Sunday the great and the good of the film industry will gather in Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre for the 94th Academy Awards. The ceremony is an opportunity to recognise the outstanding cinematic achievements of the past year, and is also a good excuse to show off.

With the biggest stars on show there will be no shortage of lavish outfits, but what are the rules for such an occasion? Does the Oscars have a dress code?

In 2021 Emilia Petrarca, fashion news writer at The Cut, revealed that the ceremony’s producers had sent out a list of guidelines for nominees which included safety protocols, speech-giving suggestions, and some words on the dress code.

“We’re aiming for a fusion of Inspirational and Aspirational,” the letter read. “In actual words… formal is totally cool if you want to go there, but casual is really not.”

Has the Oscars always had a dress code?

The form and function of the Academy Awards has changed a lot over the near-decade of annual ceremonies. Initially the event was strictly reserved for members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), with roughly 300 people in attendance.

However as the years passed the event expanded and grew to greater cultural prominence, thanks in part to the first televised Oscars ceremony in 1953. The greater publicity meant that appearances began to matter more and soon some ‘guidelines’ were put in place.

For the 40th Academy Awards in 1968 famed costume designer Edith Head sent out a memo to attendees, advising them on what would, and would not, be acceptable for the event.

Actresses are requested to wear formal evening gowns either maxi or floor length, preferably pastel shades since the setting is very formal and done entirely in white and gold,” she wrote.

“As you know, long dresses (no mini or day length) are more graceful on stage and on camera in this type of background.”

The reason for this was quite simple, it was thought that smartly-dressed attendees would reflect the Academy’s values more favourably. Appearances clearly matter in Hollywood and the notable occasion of the 40th Oscars deserved to be marked.

Head wrote: “The Academy feels that the dignity of traditional affair on our 40th Anniversary deserves formal dress.”

That trend has continued into the modern day with the vast budgets and intensive management of celebrities’ appearances combining to push the expectations higher and higher. The sartorial stakes have never been greater and most who step on a red carpet will likely have consulted a stylist before doing so.

Speaking to the Independent, Emily Sanchez, a fashion stylist who has worked with Renee Zellweger, Glenn Close and Naomi Watts, outlines the importance of finding the right designer to create the perfect outfit.

“It often makes sense for a talent to think of a designer they have a relationship with first to wear for a big event as it’s sentimental and a way of honouring that relationship for that big moment,” she explains.


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