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That Vintage Dress on the Red Carpet? There’s More to the Story.

The red carpet is a financial exchange — the most high-profile of red carpets, at least. If the E! Network has at least one microphone-wielding reporter on standby, there is serious money on the table.

But like many financial exchanges, its transactions are often opaque. Fashion brands pay undisclosed amounts of money for celebrities to be “ambassadors,” to wear their gowns and tuxedos and nail polish and shapewear (though not all brands, and not all celebrities).

Which is why the steady and well-documented rise of vintage garments on major red carpets has been so notable. And can be expected to continue this awards season, even if there are still no plans to televise the Golden Globes on Sunday.

A highlight reel: Last fall, Olivia Rodrigo wore a 2001 strapless mermaid gown by Versace to the MTV Video Music Awards. Zendaya wore a reworked Roberto Cavalli dress from 2000 to the Ballon d’Or awards ceremony in Paris. For the Met Gala, Addison Rae chose a corseted red Gucci dress from 2003.


Just before the pandemic, Kim Kardashian West wore a museum-quality Alexander McQueen dress, also from 2003, to Vanity Fair’s Oscar party. One year earlier, Cardi B emerged from a seashell-inspired Thierry Mugler gown at the Grammys, circa 1995, and Gwyneth Paltrow attended the Emmys in a black-and-white feathered gown by Valentino, circa 1963.


“More and more people are aware that what we see on the red carpet is paid for — a branding opportunity,” said Cherie Balch, a vintage collector who owns the store Shrimpton Couture. In 2008, for example, a lawsuit revealed that actress Charlize Theron had been paid $200,000 to wear Chopard jewels at the Academy Awards two years earlier.

“So when someone chooses to wear vintage,” she said, “they’re kind of saying: ‘I’m an individual here. I’m wearing this because I really love how it looks on me. I don’t care that it’s not sponsored by somebody.’ That feels more authentic to a lot of people in a very branded world.”

Vintage garments have long had a presence on the red carpet: Consider the 1950s Dior dress Reese Witherspoon wore to the Academy Awards in 2006, or Julia Roberts breaking the rules of Oscars fashion by wearing a 1992 Valentino to the 2001 ceremony.

But collectors, including Balch, say current demand has never been higher (even with major events being continually postponed or Zoomified in the pandemic). They are reaching new consumers, thanks in part to more celebrities and stylists crediting them on social media, and reshaping how they do business.--NYT

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