This study investigates the red-carpet phenomenon from a historical perspective, seeking to understand how the Academy Awards’ red-carpet became the most prominent fashion show in media culture. The connections between Hollywood and the fashion industry predate the inception of the ceremony, and so does the role of Hollywood actresses as trendsetters. However, this pseudo-event epitomizes precisely this liaison. This research focuses on several historical constellations to account for the influence of media shifts, the public relations dynamics of the event, the changes in the fashion and film industries, and the role of key players in the dissemination of fashion discourses in relation to Hollywood. By delving into archival sources, and tracing discourses of fashion, stardom, and celebrity surrounding Hollywood and the Oscars, this dissertation shows how the red-carpet gained such status, functioning today as a marquee for celebrity endorsement of high-end fashion brands.
Chapter 1 provides a historical overview of the event, identifying key moments in the configuration of the Oscars and its red-carpet event. Chapter 2 discusses the role of gatekeepers as mediators of cultural capital. This contextualizes the connections between Hollywood and fashion journalism, and the emergence and development of the best- and worst- dressed lists in the U.S. Chapter 3 analyzes the role of advertising and endorsement practices in the circulation of ideas that set Hollywood personalities as influencers. In addition, the legal aspects of testimonials, the notion of “red-carpet treatment” in association with the emergence of lifestyle advertising, and the coronation of “Oscar” as a celebrity in its own right are discussed. Chapter 4 focuses on the career of Edith Head, looking into her popular appeal as Hollywood’s foremost “fashion expert.” Chapter 5 explores the dynamics of fashion at the Academy Awards, Head’s crucial role as the Academy Awards’ Fashion Consultant, and what may be considered the first Academy Awards’ fashion pre-show. Chapter 6 is pivoted on the role of television networks and sponsors in the inception of the Oscarcast, and the public relations dynamics that set fashion at the forefront by branding this media event as an international fashion show free-for-all. The dissertation closes with a case study of the film The Oscar (Embassy Films, 1966), which amalgamates the kaleidoscope of ideas explored in the previous six chapters.
This transdisciplinary study concludes that WWII marked a turning point in the history of the Academy Awards. The postwar culture was characterized by the power-shift towards television, the emergence of celebrity culture, the expansion of consumer culture, the reactivation of transatlantic trade, the growth of fashion journalism, and an increasing circulation of national and international designer names in the media. In this context, promotional practices that put Hollywood designers and stars at the forefront turned into an optimal platform for the proliferation of fashion discourses around the Oscars. This has been momentous for the conceptualization of the Oscarcast as a fashion show since its inception in 1953.