Red carpet rebels: the women sticking it to tradition and making their own dress codes

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Harriet Hall
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In some ways, traditional dress codes bring a certain magical air to an event - we can't wait to see the frocks at the Oscars or the glittering gowns at the Met Gala. And yet, in many ways, the confines of tradition have been known to hold women back, keeping them within the boundaries dictated by patriarchal ideals. 

Increasingly, celebrities are throwing caution to the wind and abandoning the rules entirely, or making subtle but key changes in their outfits that speak volumes.

Last year, when women were kicked off the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival for wearing flat shoes, the restrictive and outdated nature of black tie dress codes was highlighted even further. This year, Susan Sarandon and Julia Roberts decided to make statements that they wouldn't be told what shoes they could and could not wear.

Here, we take a look at some of the women who have made their own rules, and adapted red carpet dressing to suit their own style. 

  • Susan Sarandon makes a feminist statement

    Never afraid to cause a little red carpet controversy, Susan Sarandon arrived at the Café Society premiere this year in flat shoes, following Cannes authorities telling women last year they weren't allowed on the red carpet unless they were wearing heels. 

    A feminist fashion statement if ever we saw one. 

  • Julia Roberts goes bare

    Julia Roberts took things a step further and abandoned shoes entirely for her turn on the Cannes red carpet this year. 

    Explaining her decision on Australia's Sunrise channel, the Pretty Woman star later said: “A lot was happening from my ankles up... let’s not forget all that. A lot of time and effort went into ankles up. I just want to say for the record. I looked all right.”

  • Aishwarya Rai

    The Bollywood star caused controversy at the Cannes Film Festival, 2016, for wearing violet lipstick on the red carpet - proving that it's not only fashion rules that can be broken. The star turned against tradition and showed us all that a classic princess gown can be instantly modernised with just a touch of something different. 

  • Kristen Stewart is comfy casual

    Known for her lack of interest in 'traditional' red carpet rules, Kristen Stewart went full casual at Cannes this year, in a T-shirt, sporty mini skirt, leather jacket and check shoes. 

  • Lily Rose Depp elevates the hoodie to high fashion

    With the omnipresence of sportswear on the catwalks thanks - in part - to design duo, Vetements, it was only a matter of time before a celeb took it to the next level. 

    Arriving for an event at the Cannes Film Festival this year in a matching hoodie and shorts, Lily Rose Depp proved that fashionable can also be comfortable. 

  • Marion Cotillard does full denim

    Rules were being broken all over Cannes this year and Marion Cotillard was no different. Opting for a full denim frayed mini dress, the Rust and Bone star harked back to nineties fashion in the best way. 

  • Sarah Jessica Parker rocks a capri pant

    Known for being in the vanguard of numerous trends, Sarah Jessica Parker's red carpet rule bending is always worth keeping an eye on. At this year's Met Ball the Sex and the City Star opted for capri pants instead of a traditional gown.

  • Jennifer Hudson takes from the high street

    Jennifer Hudson's Met Gala gown was created for her by high street moguls, H&M and it really proves the red carpet isn't just reserved for couture. 

    The dress was embellished with 3D bugle beads and a four-foot tulle train. 

  • Jenny Beavan ditches the rulebook

    When renowned costume designer, Jenny Beavan, stepped up to accept her BAFTA for Mad Max: Fury Road host, Stephen Fry quipped that she was dressed like a 'bag lady'.

    Wearing a black leather jacket, loose trousers, no make-up and a scarf, Beavan abandoned the black tie dress code and simply went as herself. The designer later commented on her choice of outfit, saying: "I don't do frocks and absolutely don't do heels...I look ridiculous in a beautiful gown.

    "I just like feeling comfortable and as far as I'm concerned I'm really dressed up."

  • Naomie Harris dons a jumpsuit

    Naomie Harris rejected a gown and proved that jumpsuits don't have to be androgynous at the Our Kind of Traitor premiere.


  • Jenna Lyons

    The J Crew Creative Director has always been a fashion renegade, and she proved it yet again when she arrived at the Glam rock Moth Ball wearing frayed-hem jeans earlier this year, jazzing them up with a sequined jacket. 

  • Rose McGowan

    Attending a film premiere in Los Angeles this year Charmed Star, Rose McGowan, celebrated androgynous style with her shaved head and oversized shirt. 

    In case she wasn't bending enough red carpet rules, the star topped it off with a paid of wedged sneakers.

  • Lily Allen

    As the woman who made ball gowns with trainers into a red carpet look, it came as no surprise when Lily Allen abandoned convention and donned a puffer jacket to the British Fashion Awards in 2015. After all, it was November. 

    The star matched her electric blue bomber to her hair, making a real statement.

  • Charli XCX opts for iridescence

    Proving that a tuxedo doesn't have to be a traditional or even masculine look, Charli XCX went full My Little Pony at the 2015 Grammy Awards. 

  • Taylor Swift in a clashing crop

    Swift meant business at this year's Grammy Awards. Not only did she put down Kanye West in the best way possible, she triple clashed with the red carpet.

    The braver celebs usually avoid colours that are too similar to the claret tone, but Swift wasn't afraid to make a statement, and opted for a crop top and skirt instead of a traditional gown. 

  • Jemima Kirke goes unshaven

    As the fourth wave of feminism reigns true, celebrities are increasingly taking stands against enforced beauty ideals. When Girls star, Jemima Kirke, arrived at the Center For Reproductive Rights Gala at The Museum of Modern Art in New York City last year, she turned heads and made headlines with her unshaven armpits - proving that hair, not bare, can be the way forward. 

  • Emma Thompson slips on some sandals

    Attending the 2015 Screen Actors Guild Awards, Emma Thompson chose comfort over dress code and proved that a glittery sandal can be equally as chic as a killer heel. 

  • Ellen Page is suited and booted

    Avoiding any kind of 'feminine' gown, Ellen Page wore what suited her personal style at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival in Canada. The Juno star opted for an androgynous tuxedo with a skinny tie and even adapted the traditional suit by adding her own leather trousers. 

  • Cara Delevingne goes for trousers

    Traditionally a time for full princess gowns and wild fashion statements, the 2014 Met Gala saw Cara Delevingne go for a cool monochrome look - of trousers and a crop top. Much more dressed down than everyone else and yet, making a real statement. 


  • Ellen Degeneres goes for a white wash

    Ellen Degeneres looked decidedly comfortable whilst presenting the 2014 Oscars, wearing a white tuxedo with cummerbund.

    To top it all off, she rocked a pair of Adidas Stan Smith trainers - the shoe of the season. 

  • Angelina Jolie-Pitt

    The women's tuxedo has become an increasingly popular red carpet choice for women, but Jolie-Pitt took her own approach to the look at the 2014 Baftas - choosing to represent the dishevelled post-party look, by slinging a loose bow tie around her neck.

    Despite sporting an undone style, The Tomb Raider star still managed to pull-off looking immaculately smart - and the cherry on top was that she matched with her husband, Brad Pitt.

  • Miley Cyrus clad in leather

    Not one to ever play by the rules when it comes to formal wear, Miley Cyrus rocked a full leather look for the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards. 

    Her high-waisted trousers echoed the folds of a traditional cummerbund in a playful way. 

  • Helen Mirren is in the pink

    Proving that you don't have to be teenage to enjoy crazy colour, Helen Mirren attended the 2013 Baftas with candy pink hair that complemented her silver gown.

  • Gemma Chan does denier

    It's rare to see a woman wearing anything remotely warm on the red carpet, but Gemma Chan wasn't about to catch a chill in February 2011 for the Brighton Rock premier. Instead, the star opted for an opaque black tight, so often scorned at by red carpet purists, and proved one can still look utterly chic whilst maintaining a decent body temperature.