Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 June 2019

Oscars 2019: Why Billy Porter’s tuxedo-gown is the most important outfit of the night

As red-carpet dressing becomes over-diluted and less relevant, this tuxedo-gown hybrid stands head and shoulders above the others

Billy Porter wore Christian Siriano to the 91st Academy Awards. AP
Billy Porter wore Christian Siriano to the 91st Academy Awards. AP

Fashion designer Christian Siriano is well used to dressing celebrities for high-profile moments. He does, after all, cater to a clientele that includes such diverse personalities as Victoria Beckham, Rihanna, Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift.

However, he just created possibly the most important Oscar look ever, when he dressed actor Billy Porter in a full-length velvet tuxedo-gown.

With awards ceremonies and Hollywood events seemingly happening every other week, the power of the red carpet – and the precious exposure it gives to designers and stars alike – is waning and over-diluted. Most events, including the 91st Academy Awards, are reduced to yet another parade of women in frocks. So far, so yawn.

When every other person turns up in the same sort of outfit, how does one stand apart?

Well, in Porter's case, he wore a dress. But this was not a comic man-dressed-as-a-lady, done-for-laughs moment. Instead, it was a truly courageous move, which used the drama of the moment to make a wider point about being true to one's self. Already known for his bold dress sense, Porter also turned up at this year's Golden Globes in a suit and pink-lined cape.

The singer, Pose actor and Tony Award winner, tweeted of the look: “When you come to the Oscars, you must dress up. Thanks @CSiriano for creating this custom couture masterpiece."

The hybrid – a Brundlefly melding of a beautifully cut man’s tuxedo and a woman’s gown – broke the glass boundary of what constitutes dressing up and what clothes can be worn and by whom.

As gender lines blur on the runway, it was only a matter of time before the red carpet caught up. After all, women have been wearing men’s tuxedos for years. Ellen DeGeneres, Anne Hathaway and Tilda Swinton all understand how chic masculine tailoring is on a woman, and at last night's ceremony Amy Poehler (in Alberta Ferretti), Elsie Fisher (in Thom Browne) and Awkwafina (in DSquared2) all wore tuxedos. However, that conversation has been disappointingly one-sided. Until now.

Porter's custom-made look was no accident, but no doubt the culmination of many hours of conversation between actor and designer. Every element of the outfit would have been talked through. It is interesting that the fabric chosen was black velvet, a material so dense it absorbs all the light and masks all the details, leaving just a silhouette, of silken lapels and bow tie, which is unmistakably masculine. With a cummerbund pulled high to mimic a neckline, before dropping away into a fit-and-flare gown, this was gloriously dramatic and truly statement-making.

Posed as we are to enter the second decade of the new millennium, surely we are adult enough to deal with this for what it is: a courageous act of self-expression – as all good fashion should be.

Updated: February 25, 2019 11:52 AM