The 83rd Annual Academy Awards are this Sunday, but rather than string together another Best Dressed List of shimmery, on-trend gowns, I’m celebrating the women who have bucked convention. So what if most of these ladies ended up on Worst Dressed lists? True style is more about individuality and confidence than “right” or “wrong,” and these ladies have style in spades. There have been many women who walked the red carpet to the beat of their own drum, and this is a salute to 10 of ‘em who said: “F*ck it. I’m wearing what I want!” Here’s hoping we see some of this sartorial spirit this weekend.
1. Björk Ruffles Feathers (2001)
OK, this one is a given, but it was too memorable to leave off the list. In all aspects, Björk is anything but boring. She uses her unique voice to create otherworldly music, so it’s no surprise that, when it comes to fashion, Björk chooses artistic, out-there designs. Designed by Marjan Pejoski, the swan dress the singer wore to the 2001 Oscar ceremony was meant to lighten the mood of the stuffy red carpet. Even more inspirational is the fact that Björk (like most of us real people) had worn the dress before, first to the 2000 Cannes Film Festival and then for the cover of Vespertine, released in August of 2001.
2. Lizzy Gardiner Gets Credit (1994)
Australian costume designer Lizzy Gardiner was nominated for the wardrobes of three drag queens in The Adventures of Pricilla, Queen of the Desert, so a boring ballgown just wasn’t going to cut it. In fact, the film’s fabulous characters were the inspiration for her Oscar look. She had originally wanted to make the Gold Card dress for the film itself, but the people at American Express didn’t want any part of that. Add an Oscar nod and voila! American Express sent Gardiner 300 cards printed with her name. She used 254 of them for her dress and picked up an Oscar to match. (American Express congratulated her with an ad featuring her crafty look and the tagline: “You only need one in your wallet.”) In 1995, the dress was auctioned off to raise more than $12,000 for AIDS research. No word on if the buyer paid cash or credit.
3. Celine Dion Looks Back (1999)
John Galliano has been hailed as a designing genius, but the artistic license Celine Dion took when she donned his Dior tuxedo backwards is, well, pretty inspiring. Most fashion critics cried sacrilege, but the surprise of bare back after a demure high-necked front is interesting even before you realize she may have gotten dressed in the dark. A fedora with a flipped brim and a pair of diamond-encrusted Ray-Bans completed the look with a wink. My only complaint? The pants needed a good tailor—Mr. Galliano must have been busy.
4. Barbra Streisand’s “Evening Pajamas” (1969)
Barbra Streisand was a fan of Arnold Scaasi’s designs before she decided to wear his sequined bell-bottomed pantsuit to the 1969 Oscars. But perhaps she should have done a test run under the bright lights? Babs reportedly didn’t realize the outfit appeared completely see through until she hit the carpet. Luckliy, Scaasi’s design not only included Streisand’s trademark collar and bow, but also a nude liner underneath the sheer fabric. The Best Actress winner came across as gutsy and playful in a look that was totally unique.
5. Sharon Stone Dresses Up By Dressing Down (1996 and 1998)
You know that stylish girlfriend you have that can get ready at a moment’s notice and still look fantastic? After Sharon Stone paired a gray mock turtleneck from the Gap with a Valentino skirt and Armani jacket in 1996, I feel like she must be one of those women. The actress proved it again in 1998 when she wore a Vera Wang maxiskirt that looks like nothing more than beautifully dyed fabric artfully wrapped and fastened with a dragonfly pin. As for the white blouse, she reportedly plucked the crisply ironed Gap dress shirt from then-husband Phil Bronstein’s closet.
6. “Annie Hall” Dresses Like Annie Hall (1977)
It’s no secret that Diane Keaton’s menswear-inspired wardrobe in Annie Hall sparked a mild fashion revolution. Though not everyone knows that the “Annie Hall look” was really just Diane Keaton’s real-life look. The baggy layers, long skirts, vests and ties were the actress’s work clothes and, despite the costumer’s protests, director Woody Allen filmed Keaton as-is. When she won for Best Actress, Keaton accepted her award in a baggy skirt over pants with a men’s blazer and an old scarf. I think the carnation on her lapel indicates she was in her “dress up” clothes. Chic? Maybe not, but she stuck to what she liked.
7. Tatum O’Neal Plays Tomboy (1974)
Tatum O’Neal was only 10 years old when she was nominated for an Academy Award, so the stage was set for the actress to arrive in a frilly princess number, à la Shirley Temple. But this was the 1970s, and Tatum managed to trump cute with cool. Escorted by her grandparents, she chose comfort over frill. The only ruffles on her pint-sized satin tux were underneath the bowtie. Her 6-second speech is also a worthwhile argument for keeping it short and sweet.
8. Cher Gets Red-Carpet Revenge
It wasn’t the first time she had arrived at the Oscars in a design by her stage costumer, Bob Mackie, but it was certainly one of the most memorable. Cher was miffed that she wasn’t nominated for her role in Mask, so she decided if she couldn’t win the gold, she could at least take over the red carpet. She told reporters, “As you can see, I did not receive my Academy booklet on how to dress like a serious actress.” The Academy may have been her target, but the real punishment was doled out to whomever got stuck sitting behind her. Cher, with a little help from Mackie, stole the show again.
9. Uma Thurman Loses Confidence (2004)
Uma Thurman had to know she wasn’t going to win the Best-Dressed title when she arrived at the Academy Awards in an ultra feminine and costumey Christian Lacroix, but she claims that was sort of the plan. “Everyone looks the same. You get bored,” she declared. Later, Uma apparently had enough of the chiding and changed into a different, more “acceptable” outfit for the afterparties, but it was too late: The headlines described her look as variations of the “Swiss Miss” and “Heidi,” and the media criticized the dress for being too “billowing” and “a failed kimono.” The fact that no one can figure out what is so wrong with the dress is what makes it all the more intriguing. In interviews she stood by Lacroix’s talents but not her own sense of style, telling InStyle, “It was a beautiful dress. Turns out I just wore it wrong.” The truth is that Uma’s dress didn’t look much different when the designer sent it down the runway; I wish she would have stuck to her guns.
10. Demi Moore’s Fashion Cycle (1989)
For starters, let me say that I think this dress is a perfect summary of everything from 1980’s fashion that I hope never comes back in style. That said, hear me out on why I applaud Demi for wearing what W magazine called “a fright to remember.” Artists like to dabble outside of their own medium, and Demi thought it would be fun to play designer and make her own dress for the 1989 red carpet. Too bad she decided not to make a dress, but instead paired (fancy?) cycling shorts with a bustier and metallic peek-a-boo train. Making your own clothes is not easy (who knows? maybe the bike shorts were a quick fix when she ran out of skirt fabric), but Demi stuck by her handiwork and looks damn proud doing it. And that, my friends, is what we call personal style. —Rachel Chambers
Photo Credits (from top): Michael Caulfield/AP; Getty Images; Steve Granitz/WireImage; Globe, Kevin Mazur/Jason Nevader/WireImage; photographer unknown; Hulton Archive/Getty Images; Julian Wasser/Liaison; Gregg Deguire/Wire Image;James Smea/Ron Galella/WireImage.