Fashion is integral to Oscars fame machine, but yes, ask her more

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 March, 2015, 6:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 March, 2015, 6:00am

This year's Oscars was peppered with largely uninteresting gowns, although there were still some stellar creations. But it also heralded the spread of the #AskHerMore campaign.

Initiated by Reese Witherspoon, who posted the hashtag on Instagram during the run-up to the red carpet, the campaign urges the media to look beyond the dresses of the female stars.

What's it all about? A double standard exists in Hollywood. The question "Who are you wearing?", and the focus on outfits and bodies, applies to actresses but not actors.

The red carpet question has supporters and detractors, but here have been attempts to muffle it: this year Access Hollywood red carpet presenters struck the question from their lists, inspired by Witherspoon and the campaign.

It was a meaningful gesture, considering the potential backlash from viewers who are interested in the answer.

The actresses' frustration is understandable, as actors and actresses are treated very differently in Hollywood. The media still adopts a male-oriented way of portraying women. On top of that, actresses stop getting offered lead roles once they hit 40.

Male actors are sometimes asked about their clothing, although they usually get more cerebral questions.

But there is another side to the red carpet argument. When stars, both male and female, are dressed by big designers for free - and remember that some of these gowns take thousands of hours of manpower, and many fittings - it is with the understanding that the fashion houses can use the spotlight for publicity.

Banning fashion questions on the red carpet seems counterproductive when the style industry plays such a huge role in film and fame.

Still, it's certainly unfair for actresses to be reduced to a gown or designer, especially on the biggest night of their industry.

Perhaps some actresses choose more conservative gowns in a conscious attempt to shift the focus away from what they are wearing.

#AskHerMore's sentiment is spot on, but the emphasis should be on the "more". Being asked briefly about a dress or tux on Oscar night, if you are a star dressed in couture which you haven't paid for, seems fair enough. The trick is to include other questions, too.

Some screen successes depend on superficial beauty, and that applies to men, too. For example, what deep wells of pain does Taylor Lautner tap for his roles? Fashion and style are an integral part of the movie fame machine.

A great dress can catapult an actress to another level of fame, and perhaps a million-dollar fashion, perfume or cosmetics contract. This will rarely happen for male actors.

Men's red carpet attire remains boring and standardised, with few major variations in cuts, colours and outfits on a fitted dark suit or tux.

There's a balance between tapping beauty and fame to make money, and getting the focus to remain on acting skills.

The campaign hints at recognising a third way or a plurality of ways, where you can appreciate style and clothing, and still have a focus on talent.

Witherspoon nods to this too, by posting a picture of herself in a black-and-white Tom Ford gown, along with a list of suggested questions to ask an actress that aren't fashion or beauty related.

The ideal message should perhaps be: "Have it all, if you can and want. Why not? But, no pressure."