After the 2022 ARIA Awards, Sydney pop duo Cat and Calmell found themselves on a worst-dressed list.
"Like look how cool they r," a follower comments on a video in May, to the resounding chorus of "slay", "slayed so hard" and "forever slaying!" — a microcosm of the usual praise and adoration shared on their regular posts.
On the night of the ARIAs, however, the pair had landed themselves on a worst-dressed list, alongside 21-year-old Nick Ward, who also made the cut.
The "emo and goth outfits and matching black up-dos and heavy fringes" worn by Cat and Calmell didn't fit the conventional norms of a red carpet, and therefore, seemingly warranted being shunned.
But fashion — like beauty, art and music — is subjective. It's a matter of preference and taste, and poking fun at people for wearing clothes outside of people's usual expectations fails to acknowledge the breath of fresh air they provide in what can be a stale environment.
Opting for a strapless moment at the awards, both Cat and Calmell leaned into the noir, showing off their tattoos and spiked hair. The former wore a split-leg black dress from Vietnamese brand Fancì Club with one of her dad's pinstripe jackets, a Prada bag and vintage Dior heels, while the latter dressed in a bolero, platform boots and a kitschy ombre skirt set from a small Chinese brand, to show off her belly button piercing.
Cat Stratton tells Refinery29 Australia that she had been reserving the dress for the right occasion, and knew the ARIAs was the perfect moment to let it shine. The rest of the get-up came together unceremoniously and quickly, centred around the Fancì Club number.
"We don't tend to get stylists because Calmell and I are super picky and we have a very distinct idea of what we want, fashion-wise," she says. "We're trying to showcase the talents and the creativity that is coming out of Asia. It's the root of a lot of our fashion inspiration, I just think they're super sick."
The outfits were very on-brand for the pair and very much what their target demographic wants to see, so why does anyone feel entitled to seethe at their choices? Why is wearing a bedazzled gown or haute couture a defining mark of style and grace, while taking a more creative avenue is frowned upon?
As human beings, we love to turn our noses up at what we don't know or understand. And while worst-dressed lists pop up on social media and in mainstream media after every award ceremony — and men aren't automatically excluded from them — it's predominantly women who cop the flack.
"For the longest time, a woman's worth was based solely on how she looked. So it's not surprising that criticisms on outfits and fashion have been largely [been] targeted at women and have this gendered skew," offered Stratton, who also encouraged men to take more creative liberties beyond wearing the customary tux or suit on the red carpet, too.
But what we fail to acknowledge when consuming these rankings is what going against the grain achieves, and who the influencer or celebrity is dressing for. Yes, they choose their outfits to look good or evoke a reaction, but also to tell their followers that it's okay to do the same.
Stratton believes that while worst-dressed lists will stick around, people are caring less about them — particularly younger generations.
"Everyone's a lot more inclined to make their own mind up about something, instead of getting their opinions from a news or magazine article, especially when it comes to fashion," she says. "It's a pretty archaic trope and I think we're naturally outgrowing it."
Stratton is excited by what is emerging in its place: the cohabitation of different aesthetics morphing with conversations on diversity and representation in fashion.
"I think what inspires fashion and just art, in general, is typically the people and things that exist on the fringe of society," says Stratton. "So I think it's important to see that diversity — not just in the inspiration, but also reflected on the red carpets at these events."
Australia is so multicultural but we still don't see that reflected back on our screens. Stratton intentionally pushes the boundaries because she not only wants to represent women of colour at awards ceremonies, but because diverse creatives are often overlooked.
"I would have loved to see more people like myself growing up, getting recognition for their work. We want to be that representation for someone else out there."
Red carpets act as time capsules for trends and zeitgeists that we can look back on with a more reflective eye when the cyclical nature of fashion rears its head in the decades to come. It wouldn't be surprising if outfits like those worn by Cat and Calmell are dubbed 'ahead of their time' when looked back on in the future.
There is much to be said about the saturation of online aesthetics bleeding into and distorting individuality, but young women pushing boundaries with how they present and express themselves should be championed as equally as wearing conventional formal wear.
"I've been cultivating my personal style my whole life and it has a lot of cultural contexts and inspiration that mean a lot to me," says Stratton. "So I'm super comfortable and confident in how I choose to present myself because that's something that I've put a lot of thought behind."
"I'm finally in a place where I'm comfortable in my own skin and I want to showcase that. I feel like a really distinct quality of our generation is that everyone's quite disillusioned. We're searching for meaningful self-expression."
What someone else chooses to wear on a red carpet may not be your cup of tea, but who are we to judge what is ultimately an arbitrary opinion? Instead of honing in on perceived negatives, more critical thought should be shared on what worked and why when it comes to the red carpet.
"There isn't this one 'truth'," says Stratton. "There's no one true fashion judge — it just doesn't work like that anymore, in this day and age."