Pharrell Williams arrived at the 2016 Grammys looking more like he was stepping out for a latte than attending a prestigious awards ceremony. He walked the red carpet in shredded, graffitied denim, sporty sneakers from his ongoing collaborative line with Adidas and a graphic T-shirt under a jacket. The latter was a Chanel women’s bouclé number — this is the always-stylish Pharrell we’re talking about, after all — yet the look was decidedly casual despite its price tag.
Mr. Williams has a history of sartorial transgression — lest one forget his tuxedo and shorts look from the 2014 Oscars — but he was not the only star who broke with tradition that evening. Wiz Khalifa paired classic white Chuck Taylors with an edgy Thom Browne suit, and country singer Brandi Carlile turned up in a black jumpsuit and wide-brimmed hat. Others gestured toward formal codes while purposefully relaxing them: Big Sean wore a white dinner jacket but ditched the bow tie and skipped a couple of shirt buttons, Dave Grohl rocked a midnight-blue velvet suit with chewed-up combat boots, and Bonnie Raitt opted for a biker jacket.
Far from infamous statement outfits of awards shows past, like Björk’s swan dress, these looks felt like natural extensions of their wearers’ personal aesthetics, and indicated the arrival of anything-goes red carpet dressing.
Alyssa Vingan, editor-in-chief of fashion and lifestyle site Fashionista.com, confirmed this suspicion: “The red carpets recently have definitely reflected the runway trends that veer more casual and street-inspired. The idea of ‘formalwear’ isn’t so restrictive anymore; it’s more youthful, modern and reflective of how people actually dress in real life.” Fashion, from the catwalk, to the red carpet — where Kanye West is a regular in distressed jeans — to the racks at Zara, reflects cultural trends and values and evolves along with them.
One of the definitive mass sartorial shifts of the past decade has been the erosion of professional dress codes. In 2017, the jobs with the most cultural cachet no longer require suits and ties or conservative skirt sets. Jeans-and-a-hoodie is the uniform of the tech and creative industries, and social media celebrities, famous for being famous, have helped propel the rise of athleisure into an entire apparel category. More than ever, people are working remotely, where dress codes are irrelevant. What used to scan as professional attire no longer resonates, and once one border crumbles, others tend to follow.
The fashion industry has noticed and filled its runways accordingly — even Chanel’s couture shows have included sneakers, and Louis Vuitton’s collaboration with New York City streetwear brand Supreme may end up the most buzzed-about collection of the Fall/Winter 2017 season. When it comes to sartorial matters, anything is now not only possible, but permissible.
Just because the red carpet lacks the done-up glamour it once had does not mean it is no longer relevant, though. It remains a fascinating microcosm of dominant fashion trends, and according to Vingan, it is still a potent marketing opportunity for labels. “A handful of designers have done a genius job of using the red carpet as a marketing opportunity. Riccardo Tisci put together an impressive gang of celebrity muses — including Kim Kardashian, Beyoncé, Rooney Mara and Ciara — during his time at Givenchy that helped to raise the house’s name recognition in the mainstream. Olivier Rousteing has done the same with his ‘Balmain Army,’ as has Alessandro Michele at Gucci.”
Any platform that attracts the size of audience that the major award shows do have massive branding potential, whether a label is selling a $1,000 hoodie or a couture evening gown. This is only amplified by the increased demographic reach enabled by platforms like Instagram. “Strength in numbers — and social media followers — definitely works in this case,” Vingan adds.
The collapse of the work-life binary, the rise of personal branding and the importance of social media are all key contributors to this decade’s laid-back red carpet looks. The suit-and-sneaker look, like it or not, is here to stay. Expect things to get even cozier.