10 times celebrities ripped up the red carpet rule book

To subvert beauty ideals, to be environmentally friendly, or because they had no fucks to give

On Sunday night the Grammys took over basically every single social media feed – there was honestly no escaping it (not that we’re complaining). Alongside the triumphant wins, wild performances, and brutal snubs (s/o Lana), there were, of course, some pretty memorable fashion moments. 

From Tyler, the Creator dressed as a bellhop, to Lil Nas X sporting a bright pink, Ver-sah-chay cowboy suit, the red carpet was refreshingly exciting – especially when you consider just how boring 2020’s supposedly glittering awards ceremonies have been thus far. 

Someone who opted for something a little different this time around, though, was Lana Del Rey, who swerved custom couture and instead purchased her dress from the mall. Speaking in an interview with Entertainment Tonight, the singer explained: “I had another dress and then my boyfriend and I were getting a belt for him at the mall and I saw this and I loved it.” 

With the singer subverting carpet protocol by swapping out Haute Couture for off-the-rack, here, we look back at those also making headlines for throwing away the award ceremony fashion rule book. 

JULIA ROBERTS AT THE GOLDEN GLOBES, 1990

Picking up best-supporting actress in a motion picture for her role in Steel Magnolias, Julia Roberts turned up to the red carpet in an oversized Giorgio Armani suit. Channelling ‘Salesman of the Year 1989’ vibes, the look was instantly iconic and went pre-internet viral. Nine years later, Roberts took on the red carpet again with another unconventional look. Turning up to the premiere of Notting Hill in a red sequined dress, the actress made headlines for her decision to sport unshaved armpits (groundbreaking). Although many labelled the move as a feminist statement, the star later revealed she had just miscalculated the length of her sleeve.  

ROSE MCGOWAN AT THE VMAS, 1998

Turning up hand-in-hand with her cheetah-print-clad then-fiancé Marilyn Manson, Rose McGowan said fuck you to the best-dressed list and wore a largely-slated, entirely see-through black mesh beaded dress, thus cementing her status as cult red carpet icon. In the years since, McGowan has gone on to say the revealing dress was a statement against the sexual assault she had experienced at the hand of Harvey Weinstein. 

LIL’ KIM AT THE VMAS, 1999

A round-up list of the most iconic red carpet moments wouldn’t be complete without this Lil’ Kim look. But this is not just a red carpet round-up list, this is round-up of how attendees have subverted the traditions of red carpet style, paving the way for others to do thereafter. Wearing a mermaid-inspired bodysuit with a pasty covering her exposed nipple, the look harnessed Kim’s sexuality, while still retaining an element of fun. It was mixing fashion with sex appeal, and although it is something we are all too used to seeing now, back then it was something to behold. Especially for a black female rapper. 

BJÖRK AT THE OSCARS 2001

Each award ceremony brings with it its own red carpet style, and if the VMAs are the most daring, the Oscars are certainly the most serious, with lots of custom Dior dresses and Armani suits. But back in 2001, an Icelandic singer by the name of Björk laughed in the face of convention and rocked up to the awards show in a swan-inspired piece. Wearing a nude sheer bodysuit and white ballet pumps, the swan’s neck was fashioned as a scarf with the head falling on her shoulders, the body was imagined as a white feather skirt. Iconique. 

MO’NIQUE AT THE GOLDEN GLOBES, 2010

Despite talk over feminist empowerment through ‘owning your body’ and not shaving, the idea is rarely put into practice. So, when it is seen on the red carpet it often causes a stir. At the 2010 Golden Globes, Precious actress Mo’nique turned up in a gold gown, gold pumps, and unshaven legs. This really isn’t a big deal, like in any way, but it left people very confused. Notably, this Daily Mail journalist who wrote, “Strangely the 42-year-old had well pedicured, smooth feet complete with newly-applied nail varnish, but had neglected to tend to the hair on her legs.” Lovely smooth feet. 

LADY GAGA AT THE VMAS, 2010 AND THE GRAMMYS, 2011

Along with her seminal pop music, Lady Gaga made a legacy for herself through her abstract and fun take on fashion. Although there are countless looks to choose from, it was her meat dress which will forever be remembered (we even included it on our defining moments of the decade list). A year after that, however, the singer also rocked up to the Grammys encased in one of those gooey alien eggs you got as a kid. Apparently she stayed in the ‘vessel’, as she referred to it at the time, for 72 hours. Oh, and for the meat dress, it now looks like beef jerky apparently. You’re welcome. 

RIHANNA AT THE CFDA AWARDS, 2014

If one crystal-covered naked red carpet look wasn’t enough in the form of Rose McGowan, years later there was Rihanna at the CFDA awards in 2014. The look in question caused many to critique the star for attention-seeking, to which she responded: “Do my tits bother you? They’re covered in Swarovski crystals girl.” And that is all we have to say on that.

FRANK OCEAN AT THE MET GALA, 2019

The theme for last year’s Met Ball was camp, which according to Susan Sontag in her essay Notes on Camp is “a vision of the world in terms of style – but a particular kind of style. It is a love of the exaggerated, the ‘off’, of things being what they are not.” From this (along with Sontag’s other 57 definitions of what camp is), Frank Ocean turned up to the event dressed as a Prada parking attendant. While everyone else went as outrageous as they could (see: Jared Leto carrying his own head), Ocean went decidedly minimalist, which, if you ask us, is very camp indeed. 

JOAQUIN PHOENIX AT THE GOLDEN GLOBES, 2020

Phoenix kicked off this year’s award season with a statement about the environment. Attending the Golden Globes at the beginning of this month, the Joker star wore a black Stella McCartney tux, and although this may seem pretty standard (middle-aged white man wears a black tux to red carpet event etc), the actor pledged to wear the same look all award season. The decision was announced via McCartney’s twitter and although some were supportive, others were slightly more sceptical (rich white man helps the environment by wearing the same very expensive suit for a couple of months etc).

BILLY PORTER ON EVERY RED CARPET… EVER

Finally, no red carpet is complete without Billy Porter. The Pose star has well and truly cemented himself in the red carpet hall of fame. From his tuxedo ball gown at the Oscars to his golden god-like Met look, on Sunday night Porter stole the show again this time sporting an automatic revolving hat. Billy, we are in awe, please continue to fight the good fight in the name of fashion, amen. 

BONUS: CELINE DION AT THE OSCARS 1999

Although the golden rules of journalism dictate that a list must count up to a rounded number, 5,10,15 etc, this Celine moment was too good to miss. The singer turned up to the 1999 Oscars in a backwards tux designed by John Galliano. But there is no need to pander, Dion knows full well how iconic this look was. Speaking to People Magazine in 2017 she said, “When I wore that look at the Oscars, everyone was wearing dresses, not pants… I was the only one with pants in a backward suit from Galliano and if I would do this today it would work. It was avant-garde at the time.” Once an icon, always an icon.