It may be a sign of the times that the most striking fashion statement at the 60th annual Grammy Awards, held Sunday night in New York, did not take place on the red carpet at all.
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It was not, for example, Lady Gaga’s embrace of full-on diva-dom in an Armani Privé lace jumpsuit under a sweeping taffeta skirt, complete with bustle, her hair in an elaborate braid woven with black thread. Nor was it Cardi B’s channeling the “butterflies” she told Giuliana Rancic she felt in an elaborate butterfly dress by the Beirut-based Ashi Studio, complete with unfurling wings (O.K., sleeves), or Pink’s Armani feather fantasy.
It was not the minority trend toward pantsuits, though that was noteworthy, as seen most successfully on Janelle Monáe, in a regal, floral Dolce & Gabbana tux complete with bow tie, as well as Anna Kendrick, Kesha, Alessia Cara and Cyndi Lauper.
It was not the eye-catching accessories, including Lana Del Ray’s star-spangled halo atop a custom Gucci gown and Hailee Steinfeld’s purple boots, visible through a sky-high slit in her white Alexandre Vauthier sheath. (Legs were something of a stealth accessory of the night; see Rita Ora.)
It was not even the apparent death of the tuxedo, though seemingly 90 percent of the men in attendance chose to eschew black for suits and separates in a rainbow of shades. There was Sam Smith’s (somewhat controversial — social media was not convinced) jade green suit; Khalid’s baby pink Salvatore Ferragamo, straight off the runway; Ne-Yo’s bright mustard velvet smoking jacket; Tyler, the Creator’s baby blue jacket with Louis Vuitton scarf and white Russian ushanka hat with hammer and-sickle; and Bruno Mars’ sequined blood red zip-up.
And perhaps most shockingly, it was not Beyoncé (Beyoncé!), despite her mysteriously materializing next to her black turtleneck-clad husband, Jay-Z, after the ceremony had started, in coordinating black shades: black saucer-style hat, Nicolas Jebran cold shoulder and (yes) leg-baring black gown and collarbone-sweeping diamond earrings.
Rather, it was the moment, late in the show, when Ms. Monáe finally addressed Time’s Up from the stage, and then a host of women, including Camila Cabello, Andra Day, Ms. Lauper and the Resistance Revival Chorus appeared to accompany Kesha in her anthem to personal survival and strength, “Praying” — all wearing different outfits in suffragist white.
It was an unmistakable visual statement of solidarity, written in style.
And it underscored not just the message of the song, but the fact that once the door has been opened to using fashion to make more than just a pretty paparazzi-snagging picture, it’s almost impossible to go back.
This seems to have occurred to the music industry late in the game, when a call went out to guests to wear white roses in support of Time’s Up, because white “stands for hope, peace, sympathy and resistance,” according to the email urging support. Many complied, though as a practical matter it proved more effective for male attendees, who could simply pin a bud to their lapel, than the women, whose strapless, lacy and otherwise highly decorated gowns did not lend themselves to further adornment.
As a result, most, like Kelly Clarkson and Miley Cyrus, ended up carrying their roses in their hands. Ms. Cabello, the young Cuban-American singer whose affecting speech about Dreamers and her own history, made after Kesha’s appearance, was another powerful moment, attached hers to her handbag. And they seem to have largely disappeared by the time the women entered the auditorium. Presumably, there were a lot of dead flowers left behind, which is probably not exactly the symbol the organizers were going for.
The Golden Globe Awards, with its surprisingly effective call for the women attending to wear all black in support of Time’s Up, not only raised our expectations of what clothes can say on the red carpet, but created the expectation that they should be used to say something in the first place.
Pinning on a point of view is no longer enough. We’ve been there, done that. And now the bar has been raised. If women (and men) really want their point of view on change to be seen as well as heard, they need to follow through on the idea. And that includes changing what they wear. Clothes are an expression of culture.
Without that kind of added dimension, the fashion, even the most glamorous, dream-inducing kind, seems less compelling. It doesn’t have the same staying power, because it doesn’t have the same substance, no matter how much material is involved.
With the Oscars looming, the final exclamation point to this awards season, it’s an important lesson. The pressure will probably be high for nominees and other attendees to put aside politics and play the old game, but the stakes have changed.
If they are smart, they will start planning the red carpet revolution now.
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