It’s amazing what a red carpet can do for the aura of an awards show — or what happens in its absence. We’ve seen this throughout the past year, as various awards shows have experimented with ways in which to showcase the glamour of celebrities.
The red carpet seems to be key. Without it, there is no shared environment, no recognizable visual marker. That’s important not just for the audience but also for the attendees. The red carpet signifies a certain dress code, a level of polish.
This year, the Screen Actors Guild decided to present its awards show at an actual venue, the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. But instead of going live, it was pre-recorded, and the red carpet portion was cut. Instead, nominees and participants submitted their own images, as many have done during the pandemic.
It’s understandable and admirable that the awards show would roll out a virtual red carpet instead of an actual one. But on the heels of a Grammy Awards red carpet that brought a level of glamour not seen since the 2020 Oscars (which serendipitously aired early last year, in February instead of its usual March date, just before the pandemic was declared), the SAG Awards fell flat when it came to fashion.
Stars once again had to resort to their own ideas of glamour, and a substitute environment for the red carpet. Not much felt quite right: At home, the intimate details of domesticity (a kitchen in view or a staircase allowing a viewer to daydream about what the rest of the house looked like) broke the spell (and compelled participants to dress down). Studio portraits got rid of that problem but also looked austere. Only a few, such as Glenn Close, sought a pop of red to sub in for the lack of the carpet. The only look of the evening that truly captured the glamour of Hollywood was that of Kerry Washington, who wore her beaded Etro gown in a pool, Elizabeth Taylor-style.
With awards season winding down and the next one likely to return to the usual in-person format, completely with red carpet, it’s likely that this problem will be resolved. A few years from now, a look back at this year’s virtual awards season will offer context; a case study on the mechanics of Hollywood glamour and style — and the power of the centuries-old red carpet.