People

Why it’s time we stopped talking about the “worst dressed” women on the red carpet

And the worst dressed on the red carpet is… an abhorrent tabloid practice designed to shame women. End of.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the red carpet remains, for many people, the most exciting part of any awards ceremony. Usually, I’m fine with this: it’s nice to celebrate iconic fashion moments, after all, and it’s always fun to take a deeper look at the symbolism and meaning of those sartorial statements – whether it be Joaquin Phoenix’s eco-friendly tuxedo, Kate Middleton’s recycled Baftas dress, Maya Jama’s interactive 5G outfit, or Zoë Kravitz’s viral golden gown.

What I’m not OK with, though, is the flipside of this coin. Because, as ever, tabloids all over have a tried and tested formula for clicks – and it is entirely focused on shaming women for their “wardrobe mistakes”.

You may also like

Baftas 2020: standout fashion moments from the red carpet

On the morning after the 73rd EE British Academy Film Awards – which saw 1917 walk away with seven awards – certain media outlets fell over themselves to be the first in naming and shaming the event’s “worst dressed” women.

“Red carpet catastrophes!” declared one tabloid, alongside a picture montage of what they deemed to be “sartorial slip-ups”. Another publication listed off “red carpet disasters” in a photo gallery, snarkily noting that “cleavage was a theme for some tonight”, while a global outlet went one step further and pitched the night’s “fashion hits and misses” against one another.

One site even decided to get personal, choosing to name and thoroughly shame their “worst offender” in their headline. “Charlie’s Angel actor Ella Balinska leads the worst dressed stars at the BAFTAs as she braves the cold in a frilly floral ensemble,” they wrote.

Right. Is anyone else bored yet?

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 02: Ella Balinska attends the EE British Academy Film Awards 2020 at Royal Albert Hall on February 02, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by Samir Hussein/WireImage)
Ella Balinska at the 2020 Baftas.

The year is 2020, and things are supposed to be changing – for the better. We’ve called time on sexist bullshit, we are refusing to stay quiet about sexual predators, we are speaking up on climate change, we are demanding equal pay, and we are using our platforms to highlight discrimination whenever we can.

And yet, despite all of this progress, some publications are still peddling ‘wardrobe malfunctions’ as breaking news stories (remember what they did to Meghan Markle when her dress went temporarily see-through in 2019? Exactly). They still use women’s fashion choices as an excuse to shame and belittle them. They still think it’s OK that the paparazzi a) use telescopic lenses to zoom in on and pick out a woman’s faults, and b) sell these photos to the highest bidder (those viral photos of Jennifer Aniston in a bikini, which were taken without her knowledge or consent, are a prime example of this). They still spend much of their time waiting for women in the spotlight to ‘fail’ – even if it’s something as entirely subjective as “the wrong dress”. Because, let’s face it, fashion mistake stories are, as a rule, entirely focused on women.

Don’t believe me? It’s worth noting that, of all the ensembles which are being picked apart and crowed over in today’s breathless Baftas reportage, not a single man made the list. Despite the fact that, y’know, pretty much every single male in attendance committed the ultimate fashion sin and walked the red carpet in almost exactly the same bog-standard black tux. 

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at the Baftas 2020
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at the 2020 Baftas.

To quote Cate Blanchett: “No one says to Steve Bannon, ‘you look like a bag of trash. Do you want me to throw you out?’, but the comments that get said about what women wear – I mean…

“I would be totally fine about walking down the red carpet without any make-up if everyone didn’t have their telephoto lenses looking for faults. But the thing is, the red carpet is a gladiatorial sport for women. There was one moment at the Golden Globes when they wanted me to stick my hand into a mani-pedi cam. It’s like, are you fucking kidding me?! Are you really that micro in your assessment? I’m here because I’m nominated for my work, you know what I mean?

“I’d be totally fine if there was an agreement where you could say, ‘Wow, she looks great with no make-up.’ It’s the scrutiny, women want an armature.”

Well, quite.

Zoe Kravitz at the Baftas 2020
Zoe Kravitz at the 2020 Baftas.

For all those who think these ‘worst dressed’ lists are “just a bit of fun”, please try, for one moment, to imagine how it must feel to wake up the morning after an industry event and wake up to a plethora of headlines about your “red carpet mistake”. Imagine the cold pit of shame forming in your stomach when you realise that you have been selected for judgement – and that you have been found wanting.

Most importantly, though? Please remember that there is so much more to these headlines than first meets the eye. Today has seen tabloids shame women for donning “unflattering” outfits (aka bold androgynous silhouettes) – and, simultaneously, slut-shame others for leaving “little to the imagination” in their more fitted gowns. They’ve focused their gaze on lesser-known actors and women of colour. And, in doing so, they have slyly undermined them all.

How? Well, because they have, once again, hammered home this idea that it’s OK to calculate a woman’s worth by her appearance. More than OK, in fact. Now, we’re talking about these women in terms of their “terrible” fashion choices. Their cleavage. Their penchant for “clunky heels”. And all of this means that, when you google these women by name for the next few weeks, it is these snide remarks which will come out on top. Not their career highlights or achievements, oh no. Just an outfit they wore once to an event – which one journalist took umbrage with.

Don’t miss out: sign up to the Stylist Daily email for a curated edit of brilliant content every day

It is for this reason that I say it’s high time we do away with these ‘worst dressed’ lists. Let’s stop crowing over wardrobe malfunctions, and red carpet mistakes, and sartorial slip-ups – and let’s find something better to talk about already. Because, just as one small grain of rice can tip the scale, one flyaway comment about a stranger’s outfit can have deeply, deeply troubling repercussions for womankind.

To paraphrase Disney’s Mulan: “A single grain of rice can tip the scale. One person turning away from these tabloid headlines may be the difference between victory and defeat.”

Images: Getty/Claudio Schwarz Purzlbaum

Topics

Share this article

Recommended by Kayleigh Dray

Fashion

The response to Meghan Markle’s “wardrobe malfunction” is seriously disappointing

Dubbing this the Duchess of Sussex’s “most relatable move ever” is a totally transparent way to publish photos of her in her underwear

Posted by
Kayleigh Dray
Published
Opinion

We need to talk about those Jennifer Aniston bikini photos

A message to the tabloids: Jennifer Aniston didn’t “show off” her bikini body – she was photographed by a stranger without permission.

Posted by
Kayleigh Dray
Published
Fashion

Baftas 2020: standout fashion moments from the red carpet

Sustainable fashion ruled the waves on the biggest night of the British film calendar.

Posted by
Anna Brech
Published
People

Rebel Wilson crushes industry sexism in risqué Baftas speech

All hail her flawless one-liner on the lack of female director nominees.

Posted by
Anna Brech
Published
People

Baftas 2020: best actor winner Joaquin Phoenix calls out “systemic racism”

The Joker star used his victory speech to highlight action for change.

Posted by
Anna Brech
Published