Fashion

Understanding the powerful statement hidden inside Billy Porter’s Tony Awards dress

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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Billy Porter

Billy Porter, star of Pose, attended the 2019 Tony Awards in a flowing red silk and pink tulle tuxedo gown. But the look wasn’t just gorgeous: it also took a strong stance on abortion rights. 

When it comes to red carpet dressing, no-one is making more of a name for themselves than Billy Porter.

The star of Pose made headlines at the 2019 Oscars for walking the red carpet in a custom Christian Siriano tuxedo gown masterpiece. When Glenn Close was filmed staring at Porter’s look in awe, the pair of them became a viral meme. (And if you wondered what was really going through Close’s mind when she gazed upon Porter’s magnificence, the actor has finally revealed all.) 

Then Porter turned up at the 2019 Met Gala in a glittering gold ensemble, held aloft on a litter by a team of shirtless men. The theme was camp, and nobody was more on message than him. 

So it was only natural that all eyes were on Porter on the red carpet at the 2019 Tonys. The actor didn’t disappoint, wearing a crisp white shirt underneath a red velvet tuxedo gown lined with pink silk and embellished with a billowing pink tuft of pink tulle. The dress was custom made by Celestino Couture from the upcycled curtains from Porter’s production of Kinky Boots, the musical for which he won a Tony in 2013. 

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But it also featured a secret, hidden message quite literally stitched into its design. Embroidered into the train of the gown were images of uteruses in a powerful statement of support for abortion rights.

Billy Porter
Billy Porter’s Tonys tuxedo gown made a powerful statement about abortion rights.

“At the fitting, we spoke about making a pattern on the train that was in the shape of a uterus, but not obvious, of course,” Porter told The Hollywood Reporter. “And I thought it was awesome because women’s rights are under attack right now. I’m an advocate for all who are disenfranchised. None of us are free until we’re all free!”

Porter continued: “I really want to make sure that I’m showing up for all the disenfranchised people I can so that we can find power in our unity. This government is trying to take away the woman’s right to choose and that’s unacceptable. No!”

Celestino Couture designer Sergio Guadarrama said that it was an honour to create the protest gown for the actor. “Billy is such an inspiration,” he said. “It takes people who have his spirit and view of life and you can create something really amazing.

Billy Porter
Billy Porter, we are not worthy. 

This isn’t the first time the star has used the red carpet to take a stance on the causes close to his heart. At the Tonys, Porter made a statement about abortion rights and sustainable fashion, courtesy of those recycled curtains from his most beloved broadway show.

At the premiere of Pose last week, Porter advocated against bullying in a Matador-inspired monochromatic look. And at the Oscars and Golden Globes, while clad in a bustling skirt or dramatic pink cape, Porter unpicked the threads of gender prescription and reminded everyone that it’s OK to be yourself. 

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Speaking at the Oscars, Porter summed up his trailblazing approach to fashion thusly: “People are going to be really uncomfortable with my black ass in a ball gown, but it’s not anybody’s business but mine.” 

He continued: “We have to teach people how to treat us, we have to teach people how to love us, we have to teach people how to respect us, and the only way we do that is to respect ourselves.”

Billy Porter, we are not worthy. 

Images: Getty

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Hannah-Rose Yee

Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer based in London. You can find her on the internet talking about movies, television and Chris Pine.

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