Each year at the Academy Awards, actresses walk the red carpet hoping to make a lasting, positive impression — but only a handful of dresses have had a lasting impact on both Hollywood and fashion history, bringing sudden fame to the actresses who wore them or transforming their designers’ reputation.
Ahead of Sunday’s 86th Academy Awards, InStyle Editor-at-Large Hal Rubenstein recalls some of the Oscar dresses that turned heads and blazed new trails in fashion.
In 1997, for instance, Nicole Kidman wore a chartreuse John Galliano gown that raised the designer’s global profile and introduced haute couture as a new standard for red-carpet success. At the 79th Academy Awards, Keira Knightley strode out in a burgundy taffeta Vera Wang ball gown, and the then little-known actress became a “Who’s that woman?” sensation by the next morning, according to Rubenstein. And in 2011, newcomer Jennifer Lawrence, who sported denim and plaid in her breakout performance in Winter’s Bone, wore a body-hugging, red Calvin Klein dress that revealed her as a jaw-dropping beauty and certain A-list star.
For more unforgettable Oscar dresses, take a look at InStyle’s pick for The Oscar Dresses We Can’t Forget (And Don’t Want To!), and what the winners wore in 20 Years of Best Actress Dresses.