Anyone shopping for a little black dress in Los Angeles this weekend can expect slim pickings. The Time’s Up campaign, which has called on women to wear black on the Golden Globes red carpet to support the fight against sexual harassment in Hollywood, has seen a run on black gowns.
“Every request we’ve received thus far has been for black,” a representative of an LA fashion showroom told the Hollywood Reporter. There have also been reports from Paris of brightly coloured gowns, laboured over for weeks, being mothballed in favour of last-minute black alternatives.
The New York-based designer Naeem Khan had designed a gold dress for the presenter Christina Hendricks to wear at the ceremony on Sunday; it is now being remade in black. “This was a big challenge in my world because everything I do is made by hand,” Khan told Womenswear Daily.
“When you have 20 people working on a dress and you only have a week and a half to make these things between India and the US, it is always very difficult … but I know it will be worth it. [The gown] has been redesigned in a way that is specific to her personality and the empowered message we’re sending for the evening.”
The nominees Saoirse Ronan, Allison Janney, Mary J Blige, Holly Hunter and Gal Gadot are among those who have pledged to wear black. The cast of Big Little Lies, the hot-favourite female-led show whose star Reece Witherspoon is one of the 300 signatories to Time’s Up, are expected to follow suit.
But the mooted “blackout” has prompted criticism among those who view it as a dumbing down of the debate. To the actor Rose McGowan, it is little more than a feeble whitewash: “Your silence is the problem,” she said in tweet directed at Meryl Streep and other actors last month who she decried for failing to speak out earlier and louder.
Elsewhere, commentators feel a dress code that makes women less visible sends the wrong message. According to Robin Givhan, a fashion critic for the Washington Post, “taking the fizz out of fashion is … regressive. It smacks of sexism to say, even indirectly, that fashion – the quintessential realm of women – must be shunned in order for women to be taken seriously … mostly it reads like the proper response to sexual harassment is to change one’s attire.”
In People magazine, a Hollywood source has reported dissent among attendees: “Some feel women should celebrate their newfound power, strong voices and future by wearing a wide variety of bright shades.”
For every commenter who believes the black dress code can be part of the solution to Hollywood’s deep-seated problems, there is another who is adamant that any red carpet at all is part of the problem; its beauty pageant associations do not make it an easy fit with feminism.
But those in favour of the blackout believe that the awards season red carpet, which has become a high-profile pop cultural event, is an effective platform on which to promote the cause of gender equality to a mass audience through simple optics.
The actor and Time’s Up spokeswoman, Eva Longoria, has defended the dress code as a meaningful show of female comradeship, to counter the idea of the red carpet as a competition in which women are judged by their attractiveness. Longoria told the New York Times that wearing black on Sunday would count as a collective political statement. “This is a moment of solidarity, not a fashion moment … For years, we’ve sold these awards shows as women, with our gowns and colours and our beautiful faces and our glamour … This time the industry can’t expect us to go up and twirl around,” she said.
The proposed dress code spotlights the complex links between fashion and Hollywood power. The red carpet has long served as a promotional device for films in which women are treated, in the worst cases, as chattels of the studios. The actor Felicity Huffman has gone on record to affirm the many rumours that Harvey Weinstein bullied actors into wearing dresses by Marchesa, his wife’s label in which he was a key investor.
Weinstein is alleged to have told Huffman that he would pull financial promotion of her film Transamerica unless she wore Marchesa at red carpet events. Photographs of celebrities in Marchesa have dried up since the Weinstein scandal broke, and the label is likely to be notable by its absence from this awards season, although the brand is still performing well at retail and has confirmed that it will go ahead with a show at New York fashion week on 14 February.
The red carpet has also become a lucrative side-hustle for actors who become ambassadors for fashion houses. Emma Stone, who is nominated in the best actress category for Battle of the Sexes, recently signed a contract to appear in Louis Vuitton advertising campaigns and to wear the label on the red carpet.
The politics of these deals cuts both ways: they often go to young women, a cohort who are at the sharp end of a Hollywood pay imbalance, and have given some female actors a financial freedom to make more meaningful creative choices. But since these contracts effectively commandeer film award ceremonies as catwalks for powerful fashion brands, they undermine the notion of fashion as self-expression.
Male attendees, who tend to wear black tie anyway, are likely to avoid peacocking in navy velvet this season. The New York-based menswear stylist Michael Fisher told the Hollywood Reporter that wearing black to the Globes would be “an inevitable thing out of solidarity”, adding: “My gentlemen are wearing dark suits and all are wearing black pocket squares to support the cause.”
Some men are expected to wear black shirts with their suits, instead of the traditional white, although the male blackout has sparked eyerolling on social media. (“Typical men, to make token effort and expect all the credit,” remarked one Twitter user.)
Whatever the subtleties and grey areas of the black dress code, the choice of a colour associated with funerals rather than celebrations is felt by many to be appropriate for an awards season that will play out under the long shadow of Harvey Weinstein.