A Brief History of the Oscars and Its Evolution from Award Ceremony to Fashion Event

Sunday, April 25, 2021 marks the 93th year of the tradition of the Academy Awards. The event is presented by the Academy of the Motion Picture Arts & Sciences where the best films of 2020 will be honored. The ceremony will be held at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California. 

Though the event was originally held to honor the year’s best in film, it has developed, over the years, into an opportunity for celebrities and designers to make a fashion statement. Read on as we explore a short history of the Oscars and some of the best (and worst) outfits in Oscar history.

The Early History of the Oscars 

The very first ceremony was held May 16, 1929. The academy handed out its first awards during a dinner party for about 250 people in the Blossom Room of the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood. Organized two years earlier in 1927, the academy was created to serve as a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement and improvement of the film industry. It is the brainchild of Louis B. Mayer, former head of the MGM film studio.

The First Oscar Recipient: A Heated Debate

While the official first recipient of the legendary Oscar is Emil Jannings, a German actor who later produced propaganda for the Nazis, it is reputed that the real winner was in fact Rin Tin Tin, the rescued 11-year old German Shepherd. Rescued by a US airman in wartime France in 1918, Rin Tin Tin went on to become one of the most popular and profitable Hollywood stars. This occurred during a time in which silent movies were being overtaken by the increasingly popular “talkies,” or movies with sound.

Though Rin Tin Tin starred in a shocking 27 films, four of which were released in the same year as the first award ceremony, Louis B. Mayer determined that to allow a dog to receive the first award would serve only to undermine the integrity of the ceremony. So even though the pup received the most votes for best-actor, Emil Jannings has been recorded in the history books as its original recipient, after a second route of voting was held considering human contenders exclusively.

The BBC alleges a trend of controversy stating that while Walt Disney holds the record for most Oscars won, at a considerable 26 (as of 2016), yet Alfred Hitchcock has never been recognized outside of an honorary statuette. Whatever politics may or may not be at play, one thing is for certain: the Oscars continues to be on the of the greatest nights of celebrity fashion. 

The Oscars: A Much Anticipated Fashion Event

For better or for worse, it remains an event in which its attendees often birth new fashion trends. It is also an event which has seen some of the most outrageous looks of the red carpet. Read on as we explore a visual history of some of the best and worst ensembles of the Oscars.

  • 1929 – Janet Gaynor, at the very first Oscar ceremony, in an off-the-rack dress. 
  • 1938 – Luise Rainer, not expecting to win, wasn’t planning on attending the 1938 ceremony. She found out last minute and rushed to the awards in her nightgown, not even having enough time to apply makeup. 
  • 1939 – Bette Davis, with a feathered neckline.
  • 1945 – Ingrid Bergman
  • 1950 – Olivia de Havilland in Orry Kelly
  • 1958 – Joanna Woodward in a homemade dress
  • 1961 – Elizabeth Taylor in Christian Dior
  • 1966 – Julie Christie in a homemade dress
  • 1969 – Barbara Streisand in a more sheer outfit than she realized, by Arnold Scassi
  • 1978 – Diane Keaton in Ruth Morley
  • 1983 – Meryl Streep in Christian Leigh
  • 1988 – Cher – in a strategically beaded ensemble by Bob Mackie
  • 1992 – Jodie Foster in Armani
  • 1996 – Susan Sarandon in Dolce & Gabbana
  • 1999- Gwyneth Paltrow in Ralph Lauren
  • 2001 – Julia Roberts in vintage Valentino
  • 2002 – Halle Berry in Elie Saab
  • 2005 – Hilary Swank in Guy Laroche
  • 2007 – Helen Mirren in Christian Lacroix
  • 2008 – Marion Cotillard in Jean Paul Gaultier
  • 2013 – Jennifer Lawrence in Christian Dior