In a sea of largely beige and ivory gowns at Sunday evening’s Academy Awards, a couple of dresses stood out. The first came by way of legendary actress and singer Rita Moreno, who wore a strapless black and gold gown complete with black over-the-elbow gloves. The second: Comedian and actress Tiffany Haddish’s white halter dress. Defying what has – at least in the past – been widely considered a red carpet faux pas, both women had worn these dresses to events before.
Yes, 86-year old Moreno walked the red carpet – and stood on stage as a presenter – in the exact same custom made dress she had worn to accept her Oscar in 1962 for West Side Story. Haddish wore her dress, a $4,000 Alexander McQueen gown, to the premiere of “Girls Trip” in July. She wore it again during her stint as host of “Saturday Night Live” in November.
As noted by the AP, Haddish spent half of her SNL opening monologue talking about the dress, saying: “My whole team told me, 'Tiffany, you cannot wear that dress on ‘SNL,’ you already wore it. It’s taboo to wear it twice. I said, ‘I don’t give a dang about no taboo, I spent a lot of money on this dress. This dress cost way more than my mortgage.’”
Both actresses have not only not been downgraded to the evening’s “Worst Dressed” list for the nowadays merely mythical sartorial “don’t” of repeating their looks, they have been praised … widely.
“Recycling has never been more elegant,” declared the New York Times’ Mayam Salam. Janelle Okwodu called Moreno’s look “a welcome change of pace from the direct from the runway designs worn by the other attendees.” In noting that Moreno is “one of only 12 people in history to have won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony,” Vanity Fair praised the icon’s decision to give her dress another go-around.
In both cases, the actresses proved outliers not only because they were outfit repeating but also in that they were not dressed – and/or paid – by design houses to wear a certain gown; both women had purchased the looks on their own. For Haddish, this took the form of a McQueen ready-to-wear frock, and for Moreno, that meant fabric that she purchased (obi fabric, which is traditionally used to construct kimonos) and had constructed into a gown. This stands in stark contrast to the industry-wide practice of brands vying for actresses’ bodies on the red carpet, often with their checkbooks.
Margot Robbie, for instance, hit the red carpet in a Chanel couture gown, her first outing as an official ambassador for the Paris-based brand. In other words: She was contractually obligated to wear Chanel. The same goes for Louis Vuitton brand ambassador Emma Stone, who wore a custom pants suit from the brand to the awards show. Still yet, countless other stars were dressed in particular designers as a result of behind-the-scenes deals between brands and their stylists, making it so that stars that actually purchase their own looks are in the minority.
But back to the outfit-repeating: Both Moreno and Haddish join a larger movement of women claiming the right to wear whatever they want as many times as they want. Journalist and entrepreneur Arianna Huffington, for instance, spoke out by way of a post on her site Thrive recently, writing that outfit repeating is “a great way to begin to close the style gap, affording women the same freedom (in the form of time and money and thought) that men have in putting together their outfits. That doesn’t mean we can’t still take the time to thoughtfully select an outfit for a certain occasion — it just means we no longer feel like we have to.”
Livia Firth, activist and founder of eco-fashion consultancy Eco-Age, has similarly been pioneering the concept with her own “30 wear” initiative. Not only does the filmmaker-turned-consultant urge consumers to ask themselves – “Will I wear it a minimum of 30 times?” – each time they make a purchase, she actively practices this, herself, by regularly re-wearing her own red carpet looks from Gucci sweaters from the 1990’s to reworked vintage brocade dresses.
And still yet, Kate Middleton has been praised routinely for her “fashion-recycling plan,” as Vogue put it a couple of years ago. In that same article, entitled, The Etiquette of Outfit Repeating, Vogue Runway’s director Nicole Phelps “matter-of-factly admitted” that she has “very little anxiety about repeating outfits these days—no one is paying that close attention.”
Maybe this will be the "new black" for many red carpets – and front rows – to come.