Saturday, May 19, 2012

Them Folks in Those Dresses

There are days when the mind is unable (or unwilling) to process text - no matter how compelling, how informative and engaging. Those are the days on which I just look - mostly at fashion images. Lately (which in my world is a curiously flexible term) I've found myself drawn to red carpet galleries. I love the spectacle and theater of the Red Carpet Event. Prestigious awards to be handed out, beautiful people in beautiful clothes, some hamming it up for the cameras, others demonstrating poise, and still others demonstrating the woeful absence of taste and a sense of occasion which critics and columnists get to mine for a living.    

I think the red carpet drama as it is staged now - glamorous pictures projected into millions of screens for home-viewing - plays out some version of the high-school, small-town, dinner-slash-brunch game of 'What is she wearing?' Which is polite-speak for 'What was she thinking?' Of course we're talking about women here. Men, however hard they try (and the metro-sexual/androgynous trend-bearers HAVE tried) have no place in this conversation.

What was she thinking, indeed. We know celebrities through their work, through gossip columns, through interviews that are more often than not stilted and predictable. We think that social media interactions have created some sort of intimacy between the public and the stars. Maybe, in some cases, they have. Maybe there are famous people out there who are playing themselves when they tweet or update their blogs. But as in the halcyon days of the Hollywood studio, when film executives decided what lead actresses could and couldn't wear even off the sets, most celebrities continue to be managed. This exercise has evolved into a fine art. So when we're drawn to movie stars - their talent and their beauty - we sense that there's still a lot about them that we don't know. The few celebrities who do bare it all (unwittingly or otherwise) exert a curious fascination for us, but this is often laced with contempt. It seems that the audience is hard to please. It thinks it wants to know it all, but knowing all, it is derisive and dismissive. Walking the fine line between accessible disclosure and appropriate distance is a high-wire act. But it's an essential component in the performance of celebrity.

It is on the red carpet that a space is created for some dialogue between the celebrity as brand, the celebrity as person, and the viewer. Dresses are gifted by labels and selected by stylists, hair coiffed by professionals, make up applied and re-applied by practised hands. Yes. But they are also statements of intent. Of taste. Of personality. People still talk about Minnie Driver in her red dress post a very public breakup with Matt Damon. Bjork thumbed her nose at us all in that swan gown (?). Cate Blanchett paid tribute to Alexander McQueen at Cannes. Angelina Jolie struck a pose that set off waves. Tilda Swinton shows a penchant for technique and construction, Charlize Theron for big bows, Natalie Portman for sweetness and light. They're expressing themselves through fashion, styling themselves either as trend-setters or followers or just plain clueless. And we all get to watch and comment.

What she is wearing might indeed be our best bet at figuring out what she is thinking, what she wants, and what she is like. Who cares? I think we all do, a little bit. Some more than others. Of course we can watch our neighbours and friends instead. But it's just slightly more fun watching the Beautiful People putting on a show on the Red Carpet.   

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This work by ToruJ is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.