In a year that pushed the timing of the Academy Awards from its typical February date to a Sunday in late April, our stars showed up—and out—in a riot of color rivaling any spring garden. Whether in neon brights, jewel-toned hues or the poshest of pastels, this year’s red carpet was not only the most diverse in Oscars’ history (no, really—despite a deeply disappointing and arguably disrespectful end to the festivities); it was also one of the most colorful, as the stars shirked of a year’s worth of mourning garments (and loungewear) in favor of a far more optimistic palette.
“We’re aiming for a fusion of Inspirational and Aspirational,” read the Academy’s dress code this year (h/t The Cut). “In actual words, Formal is totally cool if you want to go there, but casual is really not.” How the stars interpreted such a vague mandate was interesting, to say the least—and ranged from old Hollywood glamour to gender-fluid fashion statements. Aside from color, skin was definitely in this year, defying the myth of the quarantine bod as an array of the evening’s gowns featured peekaboo details and cutouts—and then, there was Halle Berry’s unexpected haircut, but we won’t go there. And even if there were still couture masks on hand to cover faces, as per usual, a few of our regular style stars came to slay yet again, proving that everything—yes, everything—is better when you give it some color.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way, since we’ve been waiting to see what Zendaya would turn up in since we heard she’d be presenting. Yet again striking the perfect balance between showstopping and subtle enough to not upstage the actual nominees, a Cher-inspired strapless citron chiffon gown with revealing sarong-like details from Maison Valentino was the choice this year. Six million dollars’ worth of chunky gold and diamond jewelry from Bulgari, beachy waist-length waves, and a subtle bronze glow completed the look, thanks to stylist and 2019 The Root 100 honoree Law Roach, hairstylist and 2021 The Glow Up 50 honoree Larry Jarah Sims, and makeup artist and 2020 TGU 50 honoree Sheika Daley. Basically, Zendaya looked like the summer we so desperately need after over a year in quarantine.
If you needed proof that Black butterflies do indeed exist, look no further than Regina King’s Oscar look. Styled by 2019 The Root 100 honorees Wayman + Micah in a Cinderella blue, crystal-piped custom satin gown by Louis Vuitton with a winged decolletage, King was an absolute vision as she strutted into Los Angeles’ Union Station to open the ceremony, her flawless makeup by Latrice Johnson framed by a swingy and sleek bob also styled by Larry Jarah Sims (who used Flawless products he co-created with Gabrielle Union for King’s look).
In short, it was an epic Hollywood entrance, and King was every bit the star.
Then, there was one of our screen goddesses looking like exactly that on Sunday night. Viola Davis stunned in ethereal white custom Alexander McQueen, featuring a cutout bodice that gorgeously contrasted with her skin beneath. While her Best Actress honor remains an achievement yet to come, (as does the Grammy that would give her EGOT status), the four-time Oscar nominee still got deserved recognition from the podium, as her hair and makeup team from Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom—which included not only longtime makeup artist Sergio Lopez-Rivera but hair and wig designer and 2021 TGU 50 honoree Mia Neal and hairstylist Jamika Wilson, who made history as the first Black women to win the honor (or even be nominated in the category).
Aside from taking home her first Oscar, Wilson was also part of Davis’ glam squad last night, giving the actress a gorgeous and textural fauxhawk that perfectly framed her lit-from-within makeup look from 2021 TGU 50 honoree Autumn Moultrie—all of which were captured by 2021 TGU 50 honoree Quil Lemons in the Vanity Fair Instagram Portrait Studio.
Let’s not count out the men, who brought their own splash to the red carpet this year. Frankly, this could simply be a Colman Domingo appreciation post, because not only is he gorgeous and a phenomenal actor but is always impeccably dressed. For this year’s Academy Awards, he outdid himself, wearing a monochromatic three-piece Versace suit and shirt ensemble in shocking (and shimmering) pink. Thanking Versace and his team, Domingo (who clearly knows his fashion construction) described the arduous work behind his stunning look on Instagram, writing:
Custom-tailored suit in a vibrant fuchsia color, iconic for Versace. Composed of a suit jacket with a peak lapel, enriched by an embroidery with a liquid effect made of 4500 precious Swarovski crystals and sequins that cover the shoulders of the jacket in a degradé effect. A shirt in tone with the same embroidered placket, the vest and the trousers with smoking bands, as well as the golden buttons with a Medusa detail complete the look. 150 hrs of embroidery work!
Lakeith Stanfield was watching a screening of the Oscars from a London venue on Sunday night, but the Supporting Actor nominee still dressed for the occasion. Staying true to the vintage vibes of Judas and the Black Messiah—as well as his own penchant for the unexpected—the actor rocked a wide-lapeled, safari-inspired belted jumpsuit by Saint Laurent.
The best part? The look was actually a style adapted from the women’s collection; a move that riffed on another of Yves Saint Laurent’s gender-fluid looks, the famed Le Smoking tuxedo. His stylist, Julie Ragolia, explained the playful look to GQ, saying: “In thinking of a way to balance the formality of such a show, this special nomination for LaKeith, and the seriousness of the times we are all living in, coming to such a look just felt thoughtful, while still being celebratory.”
Also thoughtful was the sartorial tribute made by Two Distant Strangers co-director Travon Free, who, along with his filmmaking partner Martin Desmond Roe, brought the memory of too many Black victims of police brutality with them as they accepted the Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film. Inside the lining of their custom Dolce and Gabbana jackets (and stenciled atop their Nikes) The names of Daunte Wright, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and countless others were memorialized as were Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, as the directing duo also donned lapel pins featuring their jersey numbers.
Who else won the night? From Best Actress nominee Andra Day dressed as an actual (and deserved) Oscar in gold chainmail (c’mon legs!), to a “shrouded, but make it sheer” look on Best Original Song winner H.E.R., to one of her co-writers, Tiara Thomas, in cornrows and a stunning suited look by Black female designer Jovana Louis, there were looks and milestone alike to celebrate. This year’s Oscars may have ended on a low note, but as we continue to navigate a new normal, they were an encouraging glimpse of how we might regain at least a little of our former luster.