For decades, analysis of outfits celebrities wear to the Oscars has been organized into tidy best and worst dressed lists. At BuzzFeed, we love a list — better yet, two lists! — more than anyone. But proclaiming which actors and actresses looked the “best” and the “worst” is all wrong in an age when the clothing-related moments we all remember best and care about most are the ones that go viral.
Fashion followers who remember nothing about last year’s Oscars surely remember Angie’s Right Leg. Angelina Jolie, wanting the perfect photo-op in her full-skirted gown with a slit up one side, thrust her leg through that slit as though she were half-squatting all night, probably just to make sure that we knew her gown had a sexy slit. I remember what her leg looked like better than I remember what her dress or her face looked like. The Twitter feed created for her leg still broadcasts quips to 41,000 followers. Who cares how good or bad she looked (she looked good) when her leg gave the internet this?
Zooey Deschanel looked great at the Golden Globes in a red ballgown, but all anyone wanted to talk about was her “lights, camera, action” nail art that she instagramed before stepping onto the red carpet. The image now has 122,000 likes.
Kristen Stewart may not instagram photos of her Converse sneakers before she wears them when she shouldn’t, but throughout her career she’s made a series of bizarre dressing choices that sear into the brain like those times your parents embarrassed you when you were 13. She doesn’t seem to care how good or bad her clothes look, just that you Gchat your friends after she wears them to say, “OMG did you see K-Stew in that jumpsuit?” Eventually, you kind of ending up loving her awkward outfits just for the sake of irony.
Of course, trying this hard to go viral doesn’t always work out — Anne Hathaway surely wanted us to be more interested in those torturous-looking high-heeled shin guards by Tom Ford than her decision not to wear underwear at that Les Mis event. Jennifer Lopez went to the Grammys only half-clothed just this month, and failed to become the sensation she became when she did just this in 2001.
The media is only encouraging viral dressing. Memes have migrated from the trenches of Reddit and Tumblr to the front pages of news sites, informing red carpet coverage just as they do political coverage. Perhaps no television outlet understands this better than E!, which has been filming stars with its “Glam Cam 360” since 2009, placing a premium on the public’s interest in what famous people wear to award shows. Along with it’s new “Mani Cam,” which films stars’ manicures, and its “Stiletto Cam,” which films shoes on some (but not all) red carpets, E! encourages stars to think about incorporating surprising details into their outfits that the public might not have had the bandwidth to analyze 20 years ago. If a dress proves unremarkable, a star still has the chance to make an impression with weird shoes, evocative nail art, or a new tattoo exposed through her backless dress. And the stars are willing participants in our 360 degree ogling — Beyonce didn’t do any press on the Grammys red carpet except for E!’s Glam Cam 360.
Removing the focus from who looks the best and worst has one significant upside for fashion lovers because its finally encouraging the stars are take more risks. Actresses have been trained to eschew especially fashion-forward choices in favor of bland, safe things that will help mold their images as people who can transform for any part. You don’t want to always wear black dress and dark lipstick and be seen as “the Goth girl” who can’t do romantic comedy, and you don’t only want to wear dresses stuffed with tulle that make casting directors think you have no dark side. But now, instead of “best dressed” lists encouraging actresses to look safe all the time, the massive exposure social media offers has opened stars up to looking a different kind of unusual from one red carpet to the next.
If an actress wants buzz at the Oscars, it won’t come from wearing the most inoffensive strapless mermaid dress hanging in her stylist’s studio — it will come from wearing the thing that people want to talk about. And often that has nothing to do with how good or bad it looks.