Why Are We Captivated by the Fashions of the Red Carpet?
By Lori Wright, Media Relations
February 13, 2008
As this year’s Academy Awards approach, the Hollywood elite are contemplating
which designer dresses they will wear as they walk down the red carpet. According
to UNH professor, this pre-awards show spectacle says a lot about our society
and the role of celebrities in it.
“Fashion is molded by the intersection of our personal choices and societal
standards, as well as by our individual activities, social locations, and membership
in social groups. While it may seem frivolous or simply faddish, studying fashion
can tell us a lot about our society,” says Catherine Moran, who teaches “The
Sociology of Fashion” at UNH.
Historically, fashion has been closely tied to social class. In the 19th century,
lower classes adopted the styles of the upper class in an attempt to acquire
the status and prestige associated with it.
“As the styles of the elite were adopted by the lower status groups,
those with the ability to do so would take on new styles in order to maintain
the symbolic delineation of their group,” Moran says.
Today, our attraction to celebrity fashions may not be so much a desire for
class emulation but for emulation of certain lifestyles.
“Fashion is communicative. It can tell others information about who
we are and what we stand for, including our politics, support of social causes,
sexual orientation, values, consumption patterns, and activity levels,” Moran
says. “We have a multitude of lifestyle choices available to us, along
with a staggering array of consumer choices. This gives us all the opportunity
to make choices about how we present ourselves in society.”
This public image is so important to celebrities that they employ stylists
and image consultants who carefully craft dramatic and subtle choices to express
“The symbolism conveyed by a deeply plunging neckline or super low-cut
back on a star who, say, is still a teenager or who has been known for being
more modest sends a message about age and sexual expression,” Moran says. “And
it is often the case that others will adopt the styles of celebrities once
the ‘messages’ conveyed by their fashion have been read by the
In some ways, the subtle fashion messages of the red carpet may speak louder
than words. “A graphic T-shirt with a political message paired with a
suit or a colored ribbon often speaks louder than the winner’s acceptance
speeches,” she says.