11 Of The Best Vintage & Archival Red Carpet Looks

11 Of The Best Vintage & Archival Red Carpet Looks

With awards season in full swing, here’s a brief timeline of memorable vintage and archival looks worn by the biggest and most influential stars on the red carpet. We trace how the practice has evolved over the years.

Lauren Bacall at the 1979 Academy Awards in a 1920’s Fortuny Delphos dress


Before the age of stylists it was common for actresses to work with their favorite designers and couturiers for red carpet gowns – Hubert de Givenchy famously dressed Audrey Hepburn throughout both of their careers. It’s unknown how Bacall – also a Hollywood icon of the 1940’s and 50’s – came to select a 1920’s dress in the late 70’s (Fortuny had passed in 1949 and production of the dresses ceased shortly thereafter).

We do know that stylish socialites like Gloria Vanderbilt, Peggy Guggenheim and Tina Chow collected Fortuny throughout the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s, and that his original client list in the early 20th century consisted of divas like Isadora Duncan and Lilian Gish. Fortuny dresses were a “grail” for women in-the-know throughout the century and the Delphos dress fit the easy, laissez-faire chic of the 70’s. The deep red, pleated column that Bacall wore in 1979 sold at auction in 1999 for close to $20K.

Fortuny was originally inspired by ancient Grecian garments, and the timelessness and lasting influence of this style of pleating and its interaction with the wearer’s body can be seen to this day in the designs of Issey Miyake, who added his own sculptural and functional developments to the fabric technique, bringing it into the future.


Winona Ryder at the 1996 Fire & Ice Ball and the 2000 Academy Awards in a 1940’s Pauline Trigère gown



Winona Ryder was frequently seen wearing vintage dresses to parties and premieres in the 1990’s. The coolest women of the era were known for their highly personal style and approach to mixing vintage and designer clothing – Kate Moss in silky 20’s slips, Courtney Love in ragged babydoll dresses and Kim Gordon in 70’s kitsch are just a few who come to mind. This was a huge inspiration for girls at the time to adopt thrifting and customization, helping to make the idea mainstream.

There’s a fun story that Ryder loved an Armani column gown so much that she wore it to several events over the course of years, however, the dress is usually identified as a Pauline Trigère design from the 1940’s, and Trigère herself was pictured in a similar, distinctively cut dress in the 40’s.


Julia Roberts at the 2001 Academy Awards in a FW 1992 Valentino Couture gown



In 2001 it was unusual for a star of Julia Roberts’ magnitude to be wearing an “old” gown – the black velvet and tulle Valentino dress with white satin trim was couture, but it was not quite vintage as it had been shown only 9 years before Roberts wore it to the Oscars.

According to journalist Bronwyn Cosgrave the gown ended up on Roberts via an industry relationship between her stylist and Cristina Viera, who worked for Valentino at the time. The Wikipedia page for the dress (yes it has its own page) states: “Roberts was dressed by Debbi Mason. This was known to Valentino who realized he had "struck gold" because his employee Cristina Viera had been an acquaintance of Mason in the 1980s when Mason was an editor for British Elle, and Viera had worked as a PR rep for fashion house Jasper Conran. This led to Viera contacting Mason to offer the dress. Roberts had previously tried on dresses sent by most of the other top designers but was not particularly impressed by any of them. Convinced they had the right dress for her, the very week of the Oscars, Viera arranged for Roberts to come to a fitting at Valentino Beverly Hills.” Julia Roberts won the award for Best Actress that year, and the 1992 Valentino couture gown is now widely seen as one of the most iconic Oscar looks of all time.


Chloë Sevigny at the 2002 Vanity Fair Oscars party in a 1969 Holly Harp gown and 1970's Bulgari jewels



Holly Harp was an American designer who opened her namesake Hollywood boutique in the late 60’s. Starting out as a designer for rock icons like Stevie Nicks and Janis Joplin, she incorporated vintage textiles into her creations and eventually started making slinky, body-grazing Old Hollywood inspired gowns. Sevigny’s dress was from Decades, one of the premiere sources for rare and collectable vintage, founded in 1997 by Cameron Silver.

Silver astutely observed in 2012, “The air of mystery and individuality from a unique vintage dress has helped launch several of Hollywood’s biggest names; Nicole Kidman, Renée Zellweger, Jennifer Lopez …I remember back in 2002, pre-Oscars, this exquisite cream draped jersey dress by Holly Harp came into the store. It was devastatingly sexy, yet with a sophisticated neckline and I just knew that on the right person it would create an incredible moment. Nicole Kidman was meant to wear it but changed her mind. Instead, it went to an up-and-coming actress by the name of Chloë Sevigny. It was a total showstopper and Chloë hit the A-list.

I think vintage has really retained its position within the movie industry because of the onset of celebrity culture and its marriage to the fashion world. One click of a mouse takes you not only to a picture of a pretty actress and her name but also the designer of every piece of clothing she wears – not to mention the opportunity to buy them online. There’s just so much familiarity – how does one stand out with such a homogeneous aesthetic? Vintage can separate that young starlet from the rest of the crowd.”


Natalie Portman at the 2012 Academy Awards in a 1954 Dior gown



One of the biggest red carpet trends of the aughts was vintage 50’s gowns – Renee Zellweger, Kate Moss and Jennifer Lopez all wore dresses by couturier Jean Dessès, while Reese Witherspoon and Penelope Cruz made Oscar appearances in Pierre Balmain gowns.

Christian Dior is, to this day, the most influential and recognizable name of the late 40’s and 50’s. Natalie Portman began her partnership with the brand in 2011, and in 2012 wore an original 1954 red and black dotted gown to the Oscars. The look was divisive to fashion critics, nevertheless, Rare Vintage (the dealer who sourced and loaned the Dior dress) sold it the following month at auction for $50K.


Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen at the 2019 Met Gala in 1985 Chanel and AW 1990 Chanel Couture looks


Enigmatic is one way to describe the Olsens. The billionaire fashion designers and former child stars are known for their low-key layers of oversized clothing. The past decade and a half have seen them eschew celebrity trends to embrace their own instincts, and vintage has played a major part in their style evolution. Their appearances at the Met Gala have included pieces from John Galliano-era Dior, Lacroix, and Fortuny. Vintage Chanel comes up time and again, most recently at the 2019 Met Gala where they wore complimentary floor-length leather looks from renowned Beverly Hills vintage boutique Lily et Cie (Winona Ryder and Kate Moss bought 50's dresses there in the 90's, and Kim Kardashian's 2003 McQueen "Oyster" gown was also reportedly sourced there).


Cardi B at the 2019 Grammy Awards in a FW 1995 Mugler look


Thierry Mugler loved a showgirl, and in 2019 Cardi B joined a long line of superstar showgirls (Diana Ross, Beyonce, Lady Gaga) in archival Mugler. The look, known as “Venus”, was pure camp and made sense for an artist known for her humor and fearlessness. Kollin Carter, Cardi’s stylist for the occasion, explained “From the moment I saw it, I knew it was going to be a debatable moment, some people would love it and some people would hate it and that’s everything we’re about when it comes to fashion. It’s meant to create a conversation.”

2019 also saw the arrival of a Thierry Mugler museum retrospective, and the brand’s recent celebrity collaborations have helped propel the brand back to the forefront of fashion in the 2020’s.


Kim Kardashian at the 2022 Met Gala in Marilyn Monroe’s 1962 Jean Louis/ Bob Mackie dress


Kim Kardashian’s 2022 Met Gala appearance was one of the most controversial and talked about archival excavations in recent memory. Marilyn Monroe’s 1962 “Happy Birthday Mr. President” dress was on loan from Ripley’s, who had purchased it at auction in 2016 for $4.8M. The sheer, rhinestoned sheath was designed by Jean Louis and originally based off a sketch by Bob Mackie, who expressed his disapproval, as did many, many online pundits who believed that a piece of history should not be tampered with as a celebrity stunt.

Celebs dressing in vintage in the 2020’s differs from previous decades in that the archival pull is as much about recognition of the garment as well as the star wearing it. Pairing this idea with how social media drives engagement is a thoroughly current snapshot of the relationship between celebrity culture and the archival fashion pull.


Bella Hadid at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival in a FW 1996 Gucci dress by Tom Ford


Instagram’s favourite model, Bella Hadid, wore a Fall 1996 Gucci dress by Tom Ford for her appearance at Cannes in 2022. Ford was famously inspired by 70’s designers Halston and Elsa Peretti, and in fact, much of what we think of as Y2K fashion – from low rise boot cut jeans to ombre shades to logomania – was about revisiting aspects of 70’s style.

Hadid was styled by Law Roach for the occasion. The ivory jersey dress, cut-out at the hip with a peek-a-boo gold pendant, was one of Gucci’s FW 1996 finale looks and appeared in the campaign for that season, becoming one of the defining and iconic garments of the time.


Caroline Polachek at the 2024 Grammy Awards in a FW 1998 Olivier Theyskens gown


Stylist Kat Typaldos dressed Caroline Polachek for this year’s Grammy Awards in a black and red embroidered gown from Olivier Theyskens’ Fall 1998 collection, his first shown in Paris at the age of 21. Theyskens was self-taught and none of the garments from this collection were made for sale. At the time he was considered to be part of a cohort of 90’s neo-goths known for sharp cuts, drama and darkness (along with Alexander McQueen, Owen Gaster, and Antonio Berardi).

Madonna and her stylist Arianne Phillips were early supporters of Theyskens’ extraordinary talent, and the pop superstar wore three looks from his first and second collections to awards shows in 1998 and 99 – first, a deep cut, corseted black gown for the Oscars, and later that year a striking yellow gown for the red carpet and a leather top and full satin skirt for her performance at the VH1 Vogue Fashion Awards.


Zendaya at the 2024 Dune premiere in a FW 1995 Thierry Mugler look


Perhaps the apex of the 2020’s archival pull is the ability to get a piece that is next to impossible to acquire and to wear. Following Kim K’s Met Gala appearance in 2022, this trend has spurred online critiques by fashion watchers that red carpet dressing is now about one-upmanship, stunt and spectacle. Law Roach, Zendaya’s stylist, has mastered the power of the viral moment and despite criticisms it’s hard to deny that pulling off Thierry Mugler’s legendary “Robot” look is anything short of jaw-dropping.


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Text: @jaime_sin


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