For many years the corsage was a hardy perennial—at dances, formal events, even church. So it’s no surprise that Oscar-winning actresses like Gaslight‘s Ingrid Bergman (in orchids) and Gone with the Wind‘s Hattie McDaniel (in gardenias) channeled their flower power. While presenter Ginger Rogers used hers to cover a daring décolletage, corsages could also be telltale evidence of love in bloom. “A young lady’s parents could ascertain the evening’s events based on the state of her corsage,” says Andy Easton of the American Orchid Society. Relegated to proms and anniversary parties for the next five decades, corsages have come back, thanks to Sex and the City‘s Sarah Jessica Parker, who has made them a signature. Considering her TV character’s amorous activities, however, the actress wisely opts for fakes.
1950s: WHITE GLOVES
You have to hand it to them, white gloves add a certain panache, as every woman heading out to lunch—let alone to collect an Oscar—knew. And the more “buttons” (an archaic French measurement used to describe a glove’s length), the fancier. On Oscar night Best Actress Olivia de Havilland (The Heiress) opted for two-button “shorties,” which were commonly worn as daywear, while Susan Hayward (Best Actress, I Want to Live!) chose the fancier four-button version. But it was The Country Girl‘s Grace Kelly who epitomized elegance in classic 16-button opera-length gloves.
1960s: FUR STOLES
Most of the decade wasn’t about bell-bottoms and love beads. Until the late ’60s, movie-star style meant wearing a very established status symbol: a fur stole. According to Ernest Graf, chairman of Ben Kahn Furs, long a furrier to the stars, “Some actresses even had the fur dyed to match their hair.” Many owned several stoles. Debbie Reynolds, 69, still has at least five. “The studios would dress us all up,” she says. “I love all my furs. And I still wear them.”
1970s: HAIR FLOWERS
From the decade’s hippie-inspired early years to the disco days that followed, flowers were “the image of the 70s, representing love and beauty during a creative, uninhibited time,” says designer Betsey Johnson. Freewheeling actresses didn’t think through their Oscar outfits the way they do today. Where did Susan Blakely’s pink rose come from? “I just grabbed it from my garden as I left for the show,” she recalls. Superman‘s Margot Kidder plucked a fresh gardenia, while Pretty Baby’s Brooke Shields, then 13, wore an innocent garland of stephanotis.
1980s: BIG BOWS
Taking their cues from TV’s Dallas and Dy-nasty, women celebrated the nation’s roaring economy by dressing to the nines and tying on bows as big as J.R.’s ranch. “Everything was larger than life,” says formalwear designer Jessica McClintock. “Audiences were so willing to accept wealth and excess, and actresses naturally wanted to fill that role.” As Oscar winner Marlee Matlin says of the gown that she bought at Neiman Marcus and wore as a presenter: “The bow was right in step with what was hot!” There were fringe benefits as well. “Large accents made other parts look smaller,” says Dynasty costume designer Nolan Miller. The bow took its bow by the end of the decade, replaced by the ’90s dictum of simple chic.
1990s: THE AIDS RIBBON
It made its debut on actor Jeremy Irons, host of the 1991 Tony Awards, and by the next year’s Oscars the AIDS ribbon was standard issue for celebs at red-carpet galas. The AIDS-awareness message came through loud and clear—especially when pinned to Academy Award winners like The Silence of the Lambs‘ Jodie Foster or AIDS activists such as Elizabeth Taylor. Inspired by the yellow ribbons used earlier that year to show support for American soldiers in the Gulf War, “we chose red because of its connection to blood and the idea of passion—not only anger but love,” said Frank Moore of Visual AIDS, the artist group that conceived the AIDS ribbon. A proliferation of special-interest ribbons followed (pink for breast cancer, purple for urban violence), as did a backlash caused by ribbon fatigue among celebs. Although Bulgari designed a special red ribbon pin for this year’s Awards, wearing an AIDS ribbon—or any ribbon-is no longer de rigueur. “AIDS hasn’t gone away,” says L.A.
stylist Kim Bowen, “but the ribbons have just sort of phased out.”