Hearing “Who are you wearing?” on the red carpet during awards season is about as surprising as a Meryl Streep Oscar nomination. But, lately, that line of style-related questioning has come under fire, due largely in part to a campaign from The Representation Project. The hashtag #askhermore has been ubiquitous at the Golden Globes and SAG Awards, and its intent is to have the media treat actresses as more than just mannequins. While we're all for it, let's keep the fashion in there as well. The more-than-fashion idea has its supporters among celebrities. You’ve probably seen the GIF of Cate Blanchett asking the E! red-carpet camera if it pans up the bodies of male actors the same way it did on her in a pink Givenchy dress. The hashtag also gained momentum recently when Amy Poehler's Smart Girls At The Party started tweeting it. The tag essentially calls for reporters to ask actresses questions that dig deeper and speak to accomplishments that are unrelated to how they look, says Smart Girls' social-media director Alee-a Blanco: “We don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking what a woman is wearing, but it becomes a problem when it’s the only question that they’re asked.” Makes sense. Given the opportunity, we, too, would want to pick the brains of Reese, Julianne, and Felicity on everything from the current state of female voices in Hollywood to their strangest methods of preparation for a role. But, we do still want to know about the clothes. Fashion became a big part of the red-carpet conversation back in the '90s when Joan Rivers entered the scene,Vanity Fair explains. As the magazine notes, getting dressed wasn't such a production then, either. Artists would choose their outfits themselves, and the massive business of lending out a $25,000 couture dress from your atelier or hiring a glam squad just didn't exist in the same way. (And, this was a step up from the years prior when viewers at home couldn't tell that the carpet was red through their black-and-white TV sets.) Rivers made a case for opening up the interview to include the outfits. From Vanity Fair, which quotes the deceased legend: "Other reporters always said, ‘I’m not going to ask that. I’m going to ask how [the actors] feel politically!’ But actors don’t want to hear that! They’re nervous. They haven’t eaten for three days. They’re trying to remember who the damn designer [who made their dress] is. Their hair is held together with extensions. You can’t ask them anything difficult!” Sure, we appreciate Joan's candor and her influence on red-carpet reporting. But, even better, we'd now love to hear these women break down why they're wearing what they're wearing — a question that would give women (and men) a little more ownership of their sartorial choices than just "Who are you wearing?" Because, as designer Reem Acra notes, dressing for the red carpet has become a bit of a "phenomenon" and one that represents the perfect marriage of celebrity, dress, and good timing. While it's undeniable that the public seal of approval from an actress could be extremely lucrative for a brand's sales, Acra, who has been worn by the likes of Angelina Jolie, Taylor Swift, and Reese Witherspoon, explains that dressing a celebrity for a major event is normally the result of a carefully approached collaboration. She tells us, "There really should be a relationship between myself and the artist so that, yes, she looks the brand, she feels the brand, she would represent the brand the right way."
Furthermore, finding this right partnership — and right marketing moment, such as a televised red carpet like the Oscars or Grammys — has the power to literally change the businesses of many designers. The right garment on the right person can entirely shift the career trajectory of an up-and-coming designer. For Acra, this moment came when Halle Berry wore her design to the Golden Globes in 2003: "It took me years to get to that point… In my head there was confirmation I [was successful] and I had something special and I would go further in it." She also points out that the connection between brand and celeb — think Keira Knightley and Chanel, Jennifer Lawrence and Dior, or Lupita Nyong'o and Prada — is more important than just a sales spike. "Everybody relates to it on a financial basis. You have someone big wearing your dress on the red carpet and automatically the next day the emails or orders will pour in. We don't relate to it this way. [For us] it's more about showing what the brand is." The same might be said for more recent examples, like Emilia Wickstead, Rosie Assoulin, or Delpozo, whose moments in the spotlight have only become more frequent and their names more widely familiar since stars like Caitlin Fitzgerald, Michelle Dockery, and Kate Mara, respectively, gave them their seal of approval So, our point is this: We have tremendous admiration for women with a strong POV concerning their careers, their accomplishments, and how they choose to express their personality through their clothes. Which means that the #askhermore hashtag is incredibly important — but we can't leave fashion out of the picture altogether. Partially because of the red carpet's power as a brand-building tool for designers, but also because talking about style choices is a completely valid thing that we want women to feel empowered by...and about. Actually, as we see it, the red carpet and fashion are really one and the same, at least in the former's current presentation. The event provides a massive platform for celebrities to express their personal style while being celebrated for their career accomplishments. But, simultaneously, designers are given an invaluable way of showcasing their work and putting a face to their brand. Both industries receive the accolades they so well deserve, and they should not have to exist within mutually exclusive conversations. Especially when both topics are of value. Ultimately, there are scores of questions we would love to hear red-carpet reporters #askhermore about, but as far as our industry is concerned, "Who are you wearing?" should be included in that mix. (Just keep it out of the courtroom.)