Let’s face it: The red carpet dresses that make their debut at the Oscars are just as important as the award show itself. Half the fun of any award show is watching actors and actresses make their way down the carpet, give witty responses to interviewers and talk about who they’re wearing so we can dissect their decisions and praise the right ones.
Red carpet attire gives actors an opportunity to express a different side of themselves. My way of measuring how unforgettable a dress involves a combination of factors: Does the dress have a wow factor? Do the hair, makeup, and accessories compliment the dress? Was it a big moment in the actress’ career (increasing the longevity of the dress in the minds of viewers)?
Here are my some top Oscars dresses from the past 30 years that I believe have either made or will make red carpet history.
01. Jennifer Lawrence in Dior Haute Couture at the 2013 Academy Awards (left) / Jennifer Lawerence in Calvin Klein at the 2011 Academy Awards (right).
The face of Dior, Lawrence wore this voluminous ballerina pink ballgown to the 2013 Oscars that had everyone speechless. In 2011, Lawrence had already been nominated for Best Actress in Winter’s Bone. It was Lawrence’s first time attending the Oscars and the actress looked stunning in a slinky red Calvin Klein gown.
02. Penelope in Atelier Versace at the 2007 Academy Awards. Penelope Cruz attended the 2007 Oscars in one of the most memorable dresses of the decade.
This dreamy Atelier Versace blush gown complimented the actress perfectly, and was unforgettable as she made her way down the red carpet with an extravagant feathered train. Although the actress lost to Helen Mirren for Best Actress, she made just about every best dressed list.
03. Nicole Kidman in Balenciaga at the 2007 Academy Awards (left) / Nicole Kidman in John Galliano for Dior at the 1997 Academy Awards (right) 2007:
Nicole Kidman stunned at the 2007 Oscars when she wore the breathtaking Balenciaga gown. The oversized bow made this dress stand out. When she wore the Dior gown, all eyes were on Kidman. She wore the risky color when everyone else was wearing primaries or pastels.
04. Keira Knightley in Vera Wang at the 2006 Academy Awards.
Keira Knightley stood out in this breathtaking burgundy Vera Wang gown before she was well-known, and it was this fashion moment that had everyone wondering who she was. The asymmetrical taffeta dress made it known that Knightley belonged on that red carpet. The best part? The actress donated the dress to charity the following morning.
05. Angelina Jolie in Atelier Versace at the 2012 Academy Awards (left) / Angelina Jolie in Versace at the 2000 Academy Awards (right)2012:
The contrast between these Versace looks conveys the shift in Angelina Jolie’s image. Jolie is past her rebellious days of blood vials and regretful tattoos, but she couldn’t escape that thigh-high slit that had everyone focused on her leg. In 2000, Jolie’s Best Actress speech for Girl, Interrupted didn’t bring her the best publicity but it did prove her to be a talented actress. Jolie stuck to her gothic roots with an unforgettable long-sleeved black Versace gown and pitch-black hair extensions.
06. Cate Blanchett in Armani Privé at the 2016 Academy Awards (left) / Cate Blanchett in Givenchy Haute Couture at the 2011 Academy Awards (right):
Blanchett was a sight to behold at the 2016 Oscars with this seafoam gown complete with 3D floral detailing. The dress also featured a gorgeous train, and her nude lip and light smokey eye complemented the look perfectly. Five years earlier Blanchett stepped out in this lilac Givenchy Couture gown with pearl details and hints of yellow. This avant-garde look won the hearts of critics everywhere and was one of the most fashion-forward looks of the evening.
07. Gwyneth Paltrow in Tom Ford at the 2012 Academy Awards (left) / Gwyneth Paltrow in Ralph Lauren at the 1999 Academy Awards (right) 2012:
Gwyneth Paltrow’s white Tom Ford dress and cape complete with Anna Hu Haute Joaillerie diamonds and a sleek ponytail oozed elegance. Her Tom Ford gown was a stark contrast to her fun look at the 1999 Oscars. This dreamy pink Ralph Lauren gown was unforgettable when Paltrow took the Best Actress Oscar for Shakespeare in Love.
08. Reese Witherspoon in Tom Ford at the 2015 Academy Awards (left) / Reese Witherspoon in Vintage Christian Dior at the 2006 Academy Awards (right):
The simple Tom Ford design was the perfect combination of elegant and bold for the Oscar-nominated actress representing her film Wild. On the other hand, the 1955 beaded, vintage Christian Dior gown was found by Witherspoon herself in a Paris boutique and it fit her so flawlessly it didn’t require a single alteration.
09. Michelle Williams in Vera Wang at the 2006 Academy Awards:
When you look at this canary-yellow saffron Vera Wang, the color can be overwhelming. Fashion critics put it on both the best and worst dressed lists. Although it might not be for everyone’s taste, it got a reaction from everyone.
10. Charlize Theron in Dior Couture at the 2013 Academy Awards (left) / Charlize Theron in Gucci at the 2004 Academy Awards (right) 2013:
It was Theron’s hair that made this look memorable; the pixie cut was edgy but complemented her white, peplum gown, and it was styled so perfectly it became more talked about than the dress. Her 2004 Gucci gown sparkling against Theron’s golden glow was beyond glamorous. Theron, who took home Best Actress for portraying serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster, stunned everyone in this gown because it was such a stark contrast to her character in the film.
11. Lupita Nyong’o in Prada at the 2014 Academy Awards:
The actress stunned in this pale blue Prada gown with a plunging neckline, creating her very own Cinderella moment. Not only did she pick up a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for 12 Years A Slave but she also looked like she stepped right out of a fairytale. The consensus on this dress was clear when Nyong’o made it on almost every best-dressed list.