From asking women “who are you wearing?” to “worst dressed” lists of the early Noughties, the press and public haven’t always been kind to females stars on the red carpet.
However, as celebrity status has become more and more popular, and stars often carry a lot of sway, the red carpet also offers a great platform to get your message across, sometimes without even saying a word.
Campaigns such as the Ask Her More campaign, an initiative to highlight asking women more than just about the clothes that they wear, have reinforced the need to continue the fight for equality in the public eye, but individuals have been making a sartorial stand for women’s rights on the red carpet for years.
From the somewhat dated dress codes that differ between men and women on the Cannes Film Festival red carpet, to teaming up to sartorially represent wider issues, here are six times celebrities defied the unspoken rules when it came to how to dress on the red carpet.
Time’s Up Movement – Golden Globes red carpet, 2018
For the 2018 Golden Globes, a wide range of celebrities from Jessica Chastain to Tracee Ellis Ross, Angelina Jolie to Issa Rae wore all black to the awards ceremony in support of the Time’s Up organisation, which was started as a response to the #MeToo reckoning in Hollywood.
The united front from both female and male attendees at the annual event created a impactful moment for a normally vibrant and colourful industry in honour of addressing issues of sexual harassment and gender inequity film and television.
Kristen Stewart – Cannes Film Festival red carpet, 2018
The issue of a dress code at Cannes had been an issue for a number of years before Kirsten Stewart took her own stand on the red carpet. In 2018, the year she was also a member of the film festival jury, Stewart went against the ban on flat shoes, instead going barefoot on the red carpet.
The Twilight actress wore black Christian Louboutin heels for the BlacKkKlansman premiere, but slipped them off before she walked up the stairs to the Palais des Festivals. It appears the 31-year-old knew what she was doing.
“There’s definitely a distinct dress code… People get very upset at you if you don’t wear heels or whatever,” she told The Hollywood Reporter in 2017, adding that “if you’re not asking guys to wear heels and a dress, then you can’t ask me either.”
Representative Carolyn Maloney – Met Gala red carpet 2021
Across the country, women’s rights are under attack.
I have long used fashion as a force 4 change. As the Met Costume Institute reopens w/ their inaugural exhibit celebrating American designers, I am calling 4 the certification of the ERA so women can be equal once and for all. pic.twitter.com/ONbAJq4rOK
— Carolyn B. Maloney (@CarolynBMaloney) September 13, 2021
Representative Carolyn Maloney wore a suffragette-inspired dress to the 2021 Met Gala in support of women’s rights. Maloney, who has represented New York’s 12th Congressional District since 2013, wore a purple, white, yellow, and green dress with sashes that said “equal rights for women” in support of the Equal Rights Act, which was designed to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex.
Susan Sarandon – Cannes Film Festival red carpet, 2016
Two years before Kristen Stewart decided to go barefoot on the Cannes Film Festival red carpet, Susan Sarandon attended the film festival in a tux and flat shoes. It shouldn’t seem like a shock, but the Thelma and Louise actress was complimented for her for being so bold as to wear her pointy little black suede slip-ons on the red carpet at Cannes.
The reason being that the previous year, a group of women in their 50s had been turned away from the gala screening of Todd Haynes’ Carol for not wearing high-heels. The story whipped up a storm after the women were apparently barred entry for wearing “rhinestone flats”, and led other actresses including Sarandon and later Stewart to rethink the unspoken dress code rules at events like Cannes.
Barbra Streisand – Academy Awards, 1969
Barbra Streisand wore a black sequinned trouser suit to collect her gong for Best Actress Oscar for her role in Funny Girl, which caused a stir for not one, but two reasons. The Arnold Scaasi suit with flared legs and tuxedo cuffs caused a stir for firstly, not being a dress, and secondly, turning out to be see-through under the bright lights of the stage and red carpet, which caught the attention of the media.
Although it wasn’t necessarily her intention to cause a kerfuffle, Streisand certainly knew the impact her outfit could make, which led to a wider discussion of how the female celebrities were seen at the time.
Female stars protest for equal representation – Cannes Film Festival red carpet, 2018
Over 80 women from the film industry protested Cannes’ astonishing gender gap on the red carpet in 2018.
Actors and directors from across the industry stood together on the steps of the Palais des Festivals et des Congrés, which hosts the Cannes Film Festival, during the screening of Girls of the Sun (Les Filles du Soleil) to protest of the lack of female filmmakers honoured at the festival.
The 2018 jury president Cate Blanchett was joined by a whole host of famous faces, including jury members Léa Seydoux and Kristen Stewart along with actors Marion Cotillard, Jane Fonda and Salma Hayek and directors Patty Jenkins, Ava DuVernay, and Haifaa Al Mansour, where her and directo Agnès Varda also read a statement.
The 82 women present represented the 82 titles (at the time) directed by women that have been honoured by an official selection at Cannes Film Festival competition, compared to the then-1,645 films directed by men.
Watch: Female stars lead a protest for equality on the red carpet in Cannes