Red carpet looks are very similar to a first impression. You only have a few seconds to show what you’ve got and cause a reaction in the people seeing you. There’s no way to go back and re-introduce yourself, and you can create a pretty memorable moment or be forgotten among hundreds of people doing the same thing.

We’ve had red carpet events for many years. But in recent times, they’ve become more popular and frequent with more entertainers, platforms, and ways to live-stream these events so that we can all see our favorite celebrities in iconic red carpet looks.

What does it take to make an iconic red carpet look?

It’s very hard to have an iconic red carpet look without a story or a purpose behind it. Songs tell stories about a feeling or emotion, political campaigns narrate the story of how things could be if a certain candidate gets elected. When we have an intention of communicating something with our clothes, creativity starts to flow in remarkable ways that make iconic red carpet looks possible.

Let’s take a look at some of the most memorable moments in this kind of event. Those moments that media still refers to and even become an inspiration for emerging artists and creatives. Here are the most iconic red carpet looks from entertainers in the music industry.

Cardi B’s Oyster Dress

The line between edgy and costumy is often very blurry. It also depends on how open-minded we are when we see fashion and consume fashion. We wear costumes to imitate the identity and personality of a particular character. Sometimes celebrity looks have that goal, and it is fascinating because there is a story behind these iconic red carpet looks.  

The rapper’s artistic name is an abbreviation of her favorite drink. (Bacardi). Image Courtesy of The National.

Representing Venus, the goddess of love and fertility, Cardi B showed up to the Grammy Awards in 2019 with a spectacular vintage couture gown by Thierry Mugler. Was it costumy? Was it poor taste? Many journalists and fans have mixed reactions around it, but one thing is for certain, it was memorable.

That night, Cardi B became the first solo woman to win a Grammy for a rap album, so the interpretations around this look illustrating a “re-birth” of Cardi-B were prevalent. Let’s remember that the rapper was a victim of domestic violence, and started working as a stripper when she was 19 years old to get out of that toxic relationship and pay her living expenses. So in this iconic red carpet look, we see a renovated Grammy winner artist. She is Cardi B!

Iconic red carpet looks don’t have to be made from scratch. Cardi B’s look for the Grammy’s was a vintage Thierry Mugler couture gown from 1995. ​​Image Courtesy of Vogue Assets.

Lady Gaga’s Tribute to a Fashion Icon

Gaga received 13 nominations (and ended up winning eight awards at the VMA’s 2010.) Image Courtesy of Out.

In her second time attending the MTV Video Music Awards, Lady Gaga showed up to the award ceremony with an Alexander McQueen voluminous gown, styled with a headpiece by Phillip Tracey, and the now worldwide famous armadillo heels from Alexander McQueen’s Spring 2010 collection. This footwear made it hard for her to walk, which is why you see two members of her team in the back, making sure she won’t fall. 

But what makes this red carpet look iconic? This was Lady Gaga’s tribute to the creator of that gown and the armadillo heels, Alexander McQueen. The designer committed suicide on February 10th of that year after confronting depression due to the loss of his mother a few months earlier. Fashion designers plan their collections in advance to have enough time for production, marketing, public relations, and tailoring adjustments, so the last collection created by McQueen himself was presented to the public in March of the same year, only a few weeks after the designer passed away.

“I think there is beauty in everything. What ‘normal’ people would perceive as ugly, I can usually see something of beauty in it.” Alexander McQueen

A closer look at Gaga’s iconic red carpet look. Image Courtesy of NY Daily News.

Lady Gaga’s gown for the VMA’s belongs to McQueen’s last collection. This collection was inspired by medieval beauty, and many of the dresses include church angels and Bosch demons printed in caped gowns and draped dresses. As Gaga and McQueen were good friends and worked collaboratively to create other iconic moments, including some looks for Gaga’s Bad Romance music video, this VMA look was in many ways a closure and a tribute to those fashion moments that they created together with passion, creativity, and commitment to what they believed in. 

Selena Gomez: From Disney Channel Character to Pop Star

Selena Gomez wore Versace Atelier for the VMA’s 2013. Image Courtesy of Huff Post.

 There comes a time when a kid shows their parents they are no longer a child. We see someone for so long that we refuse to acknowledge that today’s person is not the same person from 10 years ago. We grow, we change our mindset, we expand our interests, and we become different people. In the case of Selena Gomez, she started her career when she was ten years old, making her TV debut at Barney & Friends. Many people know her because of her early acting roles at Disney like Wizards of Waverly Place or The Suite Life of Zack and Cody. So when Selena Gomez decided she wanted to start a career as a pop singer, it was hard for her to get rid of the perception that she still was a young teenager, acting for other teenagers and children.

Selena Gomez showed up at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2013 wearing this navy gown by Versace Atelier. That’s when it became clear that we were witnessing a new phase in Selena Gomez’s career. One where she is not attached to any character for children, where she expressed her feelings and emotions through her songs, where she is a grown-up who looks spectacular with pink lips and semi-transparent pumps that altogether made her look stunning.

We remember it All Too Well

 After attending so many social events, it may be easy to fall into the same pattern of wearing similar clothes that we know fit us well. You probably know a person who always shows up in a black dress and black shoes, and many times, even the red of the lips is the same every time you see them! Trying different clothes is the best way to know what clothes work on you, and which ones don’t. A very simple way to step outside of your comfort zone is to play with color, which in Taylor Swift’s case has worked spectacularly.

Taylor Swift wore Elie Saab for the Grammys 2015. Image Courtesy of Pinterest.
“Elegance is a statement, an attitude. Elegant women are women of character with confidence.” Elie Saab

Giueseppe Zanotti magenta platforms. Image Courtesy of Footwear News.

Taylor Swift showed up to the Grammys in 2015 wearing a blue gown by Elie Saab with an ombre effect that emphasized her waist and the hem of the dress. The colors of the dress matched beautifully with the color of her eyes and her jewelry. The dress is beautiful by itself, but what took this Taylor Swift look to the next level was the audacity to match the blue gown with hot pink platforms by Giuseppe Zanotti. The contrast of colors works flawlessly because all of the colors involved are cold, so there is a similarity among all of them.

Ariana Grande’s “Skipping the Grammy’s” Gown

Ariana Grande wore a Zac Posen gown while skipping the Grammys in 2019. Image Courtesy of Ariana Grande.

 In January 2019, Grande released her song 7 rings right after the super successful Thank U Next video that now has over 700 million views on Youtube. Both songs were part of her new album, Thank u Next. However, the singer was invited to perform at the Grammys since she was nominated for her album, Sweetener, and her song God is a Woman. Grande wanted to perform her newest songs, but the producers wanted her to sing something from the work she was nominated for. Some sources say that there were conversations around doing a mix of the song Grande wanted to sing and something chosen by the producers of the Grammys. Still, they weren’t able to settle an agreement, and Ariana Grande ended up skipping the award ceremony that year. The disagreement happened only a few days before the ceremony, so Ariana already knew what she was planning to wear.

Sometimes the strangest pictures tend to be the most memorable and the favorite ones of the public. Why is Ariana Grande smiling on the floor wearing a ball gown? Image Courtesy of Trendencias.

How could she let that beautiful light blue Zac Posen gown be unseen by the public? Ariana decided to take pictures wearing it in her house on the evening of the Grammy awards. And even though she didn’t attend the ceremony, her dress was one of the favorites of the evening. The volume of the dress, the tailoring, and the whole styling made this look an iconic red carpet look, even without a red carpet. 

Jaden Smith’s Polemic Outfit At The Grammys

Jaden Smith at the Grammys 2018. Image Courtesy of ET.

We remember the best dressed of the party, but we also tend to remember those looks that we don’t fully understand or that don’t align with our taste and our vision of fashion. Oscar Wilde said that the only worse thing than being talked about is not being talked about. For Jaden Smith, Wilde’s advice was particularly helpful.

The rapper showed up with black pants, a t-shirt, and a coat to the Grammys. The patches come from an abandoned factory in Bangladesh, and he styled the look with gold chains and sneakers. Smith’s clothing selection wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. He led many of those “Worst Dressed of the Night” lists, and even many others were offended by the casual attire for such an important event. However, a few things made this look remembered and are particularly inspiring for people who want to send a message to others. 

Jaden Smith took this opportunity to promote his new clothing line MSFT, which stands for misfits and represents people who don’t fit in because of their sexuality, religion, race, or different vision. (Peru 21) The fashion line has grown ever since, and Smith, along with the co-founders, has worked to make the clothing line sustainable.

 The team moved the headquarters from Los Angeles to Milan and is paying fair salaries to all their employees, working with experts to use truly sustainable leather from plant-based sources, and creating good quality pieces that set them aside from fast fashion. The rapper took the chance at the Grammys to present this project to a global audience, and even though many comments were negative, his name and clothes were still on the cover page of many articles, newspapers, and headlines. 

Billy Porter Breaks Social Barriers

Billy Porter wore a tuxedo gown by Christian Siriano for the 91st Academy Awards. Image Courtesy of Variety.

Dress codes are a great way to give us a better idea of what clothes to wear. When we are invited to a beach party, and the invite says: casual beachwear, we know we don’t have to put on a suit and a tie or a ball gown with a carefully planned hair bun. But what happens when the dress codes limit our creativity, our vision, and most importantly, the expression of our authentic selves? In the 19th century, the formal women’s dress code involved a super tight corset bodice with a boning structure and a petticoat that made it challenging to sit down.

So after a certain time, we rethink what these dress codes mean and if they still reflect accurately the world we live in. The 91st Academy Awards in 2019 had one of those moments. The dress code for this ceremony is formal attire (The Cut), so you see your favorite celebrities in their fanciest garments during this event compared to other galas, and award shows that tend to be more flexible with the clothes attendees may wear.

So what does the formal dress code for menswear mean in today’s world where we know that there is gender beyond men and women? We see many celebrities of different industries challenging “masculine” fashion with skirts, heels, wigs, and makeup. So the tuxedo gown that Billy Porter wore for the Oscars is definitely part of the history of contemporary fashion. It is a statement about the need for a more inclusive fashion where dress codes are not assigned to two specific gendered boxes, where people can have fun expressing themselves while still looking formal in an event with the sophistication and reputation that the Academy Awards have. 

The tuxedo gown by Christian Siriano had several layers of fabric to make the red carpet look iconic. Image Courtesy of SFGATE.

Our clothes have an intention, and when we understand their intention, our message communicated through them becomes clear. We are emotional beings that react to colors, textures, sizes, and shapes. We love and consume stories every day through music, movies, news, and any sort of entertainment. Let’s keep our eyes open for the stories that people are telling us through their clothes. Then we will get to know them better.