The #AskHerMore campaign is important because only asking successful female actors about what they’re wearing is sexist, and for someone who spent her whole life trying to get on that red carpet, I’m guessing a disappointing topic of conversation. Seeing the hashtag trending during the Oscars has been a positive step in the battle to equalise representation of the sexes in Hollywood.
Let’s face it: red carpet chitchat has been a bit of a problem for a while, so it’s great the issue is being highlighted. The #AskHerMore campaign has been running for a year now, with the goal that reporters ask female actors questions beyond fashion, and it’s a worthy goal. Reese Witherspoon and Amy Poehler are among the well-known supporters.
Of course, it doesn’t negate the fact fashion is a mammoth industry, and the links between fashion and entertainment have always been strong. For many designers, getting a gown seen on that red carpet is a year-long goal. Behind the scene negotiations and deals can be intensely complex. The actresses don’t pay for the garments; wearing the clothes for free is the exchange made for the resulting coverage. Many actresses wear gowns from labels they have existing contracts with, or are hoping to garner a contract with.
Anyone who’s worked in any form of media monitoring will tell you getting a famous actress to verbally announce the name of the label they’re wearing on live television, while on the red carpet, is marketing gold, effecting the income of that particularly fashion house for months, if not years. So to pretend what an actress is wearing is irrelevant seems slightly naive in today’s climate. This is big business, and directly impacts industry.
Likewise, best dressed lists are big time clickbait and return massive numbers, especially after major red carpet events. Keep in mind fashion houses spend millions ensuring the idea of the person the brand will appeal to is perfected in the public consciousness, so choosing to wear a gown from a particular house is part of a complex message in regards to the actor’s own marketed persona. Many will only wear designers whose ethos they identify with, and this is of interest to fashion fans; fashion bloggers will tell you a preference for a particular designer offers an insight into the actor’s personality, albeit in a more oblique way.
It’s obvious a happy medium needs to be reached. Red carpet media has been far too focused on fashion for female actors, but an extreme swing in the opposite direction feels like an oversimplification. The primary focus during a red carpet interview should be on the performance the actor is nominated for, and comments on their career, the industry, and causes they support. At the same time, don’t dismiss fashion itself as an art form.
While a black and white approach (that feels like a tuxedo pun) seems easiest, it’s always worth pausing to ponder the shades of grey (actually, that movie probably shouldn’t be mentioned during any feature referencing the Academy Awards). The red carpet is not a runway, and at this point modern media and society definitely needs to be reminded of that, but there’s no denying having your designs seen there remains a big deal for the fashion industry.