Why fashion questions should actually be part of the #AskHerMore movement

Photography by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

Over the last couple award seasons, we’ve seen a push for better red carpet dialogue thanks to #AskHerMore, an initiative started by Representation Founder Jennifer Siebel Newsom, which encourages reporters to ask actresses about more than just their red carpet appearance.

Which is obviously great. Women like Reese Witherspoon, Gabourey Sidibe, Sally Field, Taylor Schilling, and Rosario Dawson have recently offered examples of questions they’d personally liked to be asked (a.k.a. also questions we’d love to hear them answer). Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls at the Party have also stepped up and gotten involved, and it’s arguably helped address sexist red carpet dialogue, especially since we hardly see male actors field the same line of questioning.

“This is a movement to say we’re more than just our dresses,” Witherspoon said of #AskHerMore to Robin Roberts last year. “It’s hard being a woman in Hollywood, or any industry.”

And Lena Dunham also chimed in, albeit via Twitter: “Ask her about the causes she supports, not her garments.”

And valid—very valid. But E! Fashion Police host Melissa Rivers recently offered her own take on the movement, which raises an interesting point, too.

“I know there’s this whole movement . . . but it’s not the appropriate place for it,” she recently argued. “I’m not going to ask you about your feelings on world hunger when in the 30 seconds I have with you on the red carpet, you also have to say who you’re wearing, who is paying you to wear it, and get your plug out for your film.”

Because lest we forget that red carpet fashion is as much about name-drops as it is about making a cultural impact. (People are paid to wear their pieces.) And while I think there’s a way to parlay fashion talk into something more serious, I also think think it’s okay to acknowledge another truth: talking about fashion or style doesn’t equate to stupidity. You can have real, interesting conversations about dresses, designers, trends, and the way they’re perceived, and those conversations don’t make you — or anybody — any less smart or interesting.

Does this mean I sanction “how are you fitting into that beautiful dress?!” questions? Absolutely not—weight questions are embarrassing and sexist and backwards (at best). I don’t care about who did what to fit into what or which designer. But I do care about someone’s choice to gravitate towards something risky or what they were thinking of when they picked it up. I’d like to know what they think about nineties revival or why “risks” on the red carpet are just a synonym for “trend.” I’d like to know what pieces they feel powerful in or why this particular dress makes them feel powerful or confident or red carpet-appropriate. I want to know why we can’t have legitimate conversations about fashion and style, and instead confine these chats into who wore what best. Fashion is art. (Like, duh: just take a look at the Met costume exhibits.) It’s an extension of self and a glimpse into a way a person wants the world to see them. Most of us get up every day and take our own approach to fashion seriously—so why can’t we treat the red carpet as a fancier extension of that?

Talking about fashion does not make a woman—or any person—less interesting, intellectual, or professional. But when the line of fashion-centric questioning tends to be boring or repetitive, it makes someone feel that way. Asking a grown woman to engage with the Mani Cam is embarrassing—but asking them about why they think nail art has become a legitimate canvas for self-expression is a conversation I’d love to hear (particularly if they roll with the trend). Asking someone how they got in shape for the Oscars is the embodiment of cringe — but asking why they think we gravitate towards traditional dress shape in the wake of aesthetic revolution during the other 364 days of the year would be awesome.

There’s a way to talk about fashion in a mature, engaging way. And there’s also a way to talk about it in a way that makes us all want to smother ourselves in the snacks we’re eating in our sweatpants from home. #AskHerMore is an important initiative, but let’s remember that while talking about social causes and issues is terrific (duh), talking about fashion in a three-dimensional way is a valid conversation to have too.