People don’t typically watch the Emmy Awards to see interesting fashion.
Talking about Emmys fashion usually means talking about an array of pretty women in pretty gowns and whether or not an array of men in identical tuxedos have bothered to hem their trousers. (Usually not.) It’s not a place for daring or avant-garde looks.
And there’s good reason for that. It’s not part of actors' job descriptions to be interested in fashion in any kind of intellectual way; their job is to act. And the risks of being daring often outweigh the benefits — let’s all remember Bjork’s swan dress at the 2001 Oscars, which critics variously described as "probably one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen" and something that made her look like "a refugee from the more dog-eared precincts of provincial ballet."
When your every move is being scrutinized, a dress that makes you look pretty or a tux that suggests an awareness of being at a formal event is usually the safest and the smartest choice.
And that’s fine! But it does make Emmys fashion pretty boring to talk about.
So thank God for the rare souls who were willing to break the mold with their clothes this year. In a sea of beautiful people in lovely gowns and adequate suiting, they were willing to take a risk and make a statement. Let’s take a moment to celebrate a few of them.
It was a shock when Louie Anderson came out of absolutely nowhere to win the Supporting Actor in a Comedy trophy for FX’s Baskets, but at least he dressed for the occasion. The simple, sober lines of his black-on-black suit make the shine of the gold trim that much more playful and exciting — especially since it was matched by the subtle sheen of his shoes and the full-on bling of that massive, glittery brooch. His new Emmy statuette makes the perfect accessory.
Look, in a perfect world, yes, it would have been nice for Jill Soloway to hem those pants. But we work with what we’ve got, and in this world, I am willing to overlook Soloway’s red carpet sin to appreciate the power pattern clashing she’s got going on here. The key to mixing patterns like this is to work with the same hue but vary the scale of the pattern, and Soloway is knocking it out of the park with the pink stripes of her blouse against her mauve Gucci suit. Her red high-tops act as a kind of irreverent punctuation mark.
The Stranger Things kids
We’ve all agreed by now that the kids of Netflix’s Stranger Things are the cutest stars on TV, so they didn’t have to try too hard to win our approval. But they put in the work anyway, handling with aplomb the tricky high-wire act that is red carpet kid fashion, which is often considered either too juvenile or too "mature," especially if you’re a girl. The boys sported nice splashes of pattern on their tuxes (which, you will note, have been hemmed), and Millie Bobby Brown, who can make a slap bracelet look like high fashion, went witchy and whimsical in Valentino.
Patterns are still rare enough on the red carpet that they come off a little bit daring, and so is satin — which wrinkles so easily that fashion police will forever admonish their victims that satin is only one letter away from Satan for a reason. So the elegant oil-slick effect Constance Wu achieved with this patterned silk gown was striking and unusual, while the dress’s relaxed and slouchy lines kept it wearable.
There are pretty, princessy gowns, and then there’s a look like this: all spiky, aggressive Prada lines. Sarah Paulson is already long and lean, and the plunging vertical neckline of this dress only emphasizes that fact, especially once it’s echoed by those earrings. It makes her tall and powerful and intimidating, and all the beading turns her into an armored insect. She looks like a glamorous, Emmy-winning praying mantis, and I mean that as the highest of compliments.
The Emmys are never going to become a playground for avant-garde fashion, and that’s okay
The Emmys are not the Met Ball. They’re not where you go to debut a translucent jeweled gown or a glow-in-the-dark dress. They’re not a fashion-focused event; they’re an awards show. That’s unlikely to change, and that’s fine!
But that unlikelihood makes it all the more thrilling when someone shows up on the Emmys red carpet in something bold and exciting and interesting. The potential for those rare moments is what keeps many of us sitting through dull red carpet after dull red carpet — and that’s what makes it a risk worth rewarding.