Photography by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

Why Did So Many Actors Wear White on the 2018 Oscars Red Carpet?

White is the colour of hygiene, moral purity and a blank slate.

Last night, the 2018 Oscars red carpet was a gleaming parade of alabaster compared to the sweeping blackout of Golden Globes, only eight weeks ago though it feels like an entire lifetime has gone by. While there was no formal memo regarding a specific colour to wear to stand up to patriarchy,  it appeared that the united choice of the actors in attendance was to don a simple white: from Margot Robbie’s blinding, crystal bedecked Chanel gown to Laurie Metcalf’s rosy, pearlescent version of the shade.

White is the colour of peace-like doves and perfect teeth. There are white weddings, white papers, and white-collar jobs. It is the colour of the Beatles’ ninth studio album and the Joan Didion book of the same name. The paradox of white is that it one of the most visually noticeable colours on the light spectrum, yet supposedly projects nothing at all. White is the default choice for a neutral, the colour of walls and bedsheets, when they want to appear as insignificant as possible. And yet, for a colour that is intended to be devoid of meaning, it is counterintuitively quite rich with symbolism and association.

Almost half of the red carpet attendees who wore dresses to the 2018 Oscars showed up in some approximation of white. There was Jane Fonda’s severe shouldered 44 Francois Premier gown by Balmain, Janet Mock’s beaded shift, Laura Dern’s minimalist column, Mary J. Blige’s shimmering bodice with plain skirt, and Camila Alves in a frothy tulle number. Tiffany Haddish wore a traditional Eritrean gown on the red carpet, then changed into the same Alexander McQueen white gown she purchased to wear to the Girls’ Trip red carpet and later wore on an episode of SNL. “I spent a lot of money on this dress,” she said in the SNL monologue. I’m [going to] wear this dress multiple times! Real talk.” Timothee Chalamet and Jordan Peele showed up in brilliant white suits, a guaranteed balm to the omnipresent sea of awards show black tuxes.

White was one of the three colours worn by British suffragettes on their sashes: white was for purity, purple for loyalty and dignity and green for hope, according to the Guardian. While it’s tempting to paint the colour of the gowns as some broad feminist statement, one of the most potent associations of the colour white is that of a blank slate.

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The past six months have been characterized by the toppling of powerful men like dominos by pernicious allegations of sexual misconduct. Almost every day, a new revelation reveals that a man within arms length has done something Very Bad. White is the colour of cleanliness, and it is significant that women flocked to the colour of hygiene and moral purity. To wear white is to symbolize your own proximity to moral purity and freedom from scandal. After all, white is the colour of a fresh piece of paper, yet to be sullied by ink and meaning

White is also symbolic of peace, and it’s starting to feel like women never be at peace. The past year and change have been a taxing time for women, people of colour, basically anyone whose identity makes them a moving target in the Trump administration. The unsanctioned decision for so many women to show up in blinding whites to one of the most visible public affairs of the entire year conjures up a delicious blankness that one can project their own vision of the future onto.

Every single women on the red carpet likely imagines a slightly different future, but last night demonstrated they were all united in a symbolic gesture of being ready to move on. White is the perfect colour for a fresh start.

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