After many years of avid viewing we decided to turn this obsession into a quantifiable (or informative) pictogram, hoping to learn the science behind these famous frocks. Looking back at the past fifty years (basically from when colour photography was made readily available) we collected images of the winners for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress to see if there was a ‘winning formula’ or trend in what the recipients of these awards wore.


Each award winner’s outfit was represented as a single predominant colour. This gave us the first insight into what constitutes a winning dress – the use of single note tones. This might be because, like the Queen of England, it makes it easier to spot them in a crowd. Very rarely did a winner wear more than one colour (different shades of the same colour don’t count). In fact, the most colourful dresses to grace the awards stage were not worn by the winners but by someone accepting the award on their behalf – Angela Lansbury in 1984 for Best Supporting winner, Peggy Ashcroft and Raquel Welch in 1969 on behalf of Goldie Hawn. Notable runners up are Halle Berry with her wine-mint-and-flesh Elie Saab gown in 2002 and the rosette-printed floral dress worn by Jessica Tandy in 1989.

On a side note, we also began to stocktake the tuxedos that the winning men wore but it wasn’t long before we realised that it was all just a thousand shades of black. Aside from Daniel Day-Lewis in 2012 and Christopher Plummer in 2012 who both wore shades of navy blue, it seems that men are incredibly unwilling to break from tradition. Either that or they need more adventurous stylists.


The trend we noticed was that black is hands down the reigning colour for the winners, as can be seen in our Pantone-style Oscar swatch set. This may not be all that surprising but it does highlight that a lot of actresses stick to classics and play it safe. Unless you’re Cher. Then you’ll go dressed like you’re the Evil Queen from a futuristic fantasy film or the reincarnation of Nefertiti.

After classic black came what commentators tend to call ‘old Hollywood glamour’ or what the rest of us would call metallics – silver and gold tones. This palette includes the dress that Charlize Theron wore when she won her award for playing serial killer Eileen Wernoz in Monster and Sandra Bullock’s dress from 2009, worn to collect an award for The Blind Side.

Surprisingly, the grunge-fueled 90s seemed to be when winners were at their most colourful (we were totally expecting the 80s to win this too): Barbie-pink (Gwyneth Paltrow); robin-egg blue (Helen Hunt); mint green (Kim Basinger); and even a lovely rusty velvet (Juliette Binoche).

So far, the least colourful times have been… well, now. The past decade has seen the winners for both Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress blending into each other with many sticking to safe shades of beige, black and greys with maybe a dash of red or blue. The winners for the past three years have all worn the same neutral colour, albeit in different shades. This probably has something to do with both the the role of the stylist and, more likely, the increasing power of celebrity as a brand.

Personally we miss the days when celebrities would turn up looking like a hot mess. Celine Dion wearing a suit backwards; Björk in her swan dress and Cher in anything. These dresses stole the limelight for all the wrong reasons, which in our minds, were all the right reasons – because they were fun!



Images thinkstock, shutterstock and wikipedia