"If Emmy was a real girl," stylist Law Roach wrote on Instagram hours before the 2020 Emmy Awards, captioning a short video of soon-to-be Lead Actress - Drama Series winner Zendaya (!!) wearing a black and royal purple moire and silk taffeta Christopher John Rogers look from the designer's Fall 2020 collection. It felt, as one of the first images to populate Blue Ivy's internet, like an assurance of the evening's ability to level up to expectations. It also signaled that the absence of an in-person red carpet would not detract from a star like Zendaya's God-given ability to serve. Serve she did, in not one but two looks, changing into a custom sparkled halter-neck bralette attached to a polka dot skirt courtesy of Giorgio Armani Prive (a reliable designer pairing for the young star) to accept her win. Anyone hungry for glamour surely felt fed by the youngest ever Lead Actress in a Drama Series by the night's end.
Otherwise, the "red carpet" coverage was decidedly subdued — minus that stalwart Jason Derulo falling at an award show meme. Instead of "what are you wearing?" it was "where are you?" "I'm at home," every single person responded when asked. It was the kind of exhausted you feel after a long drive, tired from an onslaught of nothing.
"I decided why not throw a tux on? Haven't put a suit on like 10 months so I figured why not just go for it," Supporting Actor - Drama Series nominee Nicholas Braun told E! Live From the Red Carpet host Brad Goreski from his New York City apartment, offering what would become a familiar refrain from nominees and presenters alike. A noticeably absent Giuliana Rancic, 20-year veteran of E!'s red carpet coverage, announced mid-show over a video call that she and co-host Vivica A. Fox had both tested positive for COVID-19 and therefore would not be there. (Why could they not just perform the same function from home like the actors and actresses they were interviewing? To quote the ensemble in Wicked: "goodness knows.")
Instagram proved to offer more fashion insight than the live coverage. "No bra? No heels? NO PROBLEM," wrote actress Jameela Jamil on the app "Wearing PJ's to the 72nd Emmy awards (from my house) is my kind of vibes." "Emmys prep... in my other mask 😷🥂 " wrote Lead Actress - Drama Series Jennifer Aniston, looking snatched in matching lounge pants and a robe with a skin mask and glass of champagne as her accessories (she changed into a John Galliano for Dior dress for the show itself). "How fun to get dressed up!" wrote Lead Actress - Comedy Series nominee Tracee Ellis Ross, showing off her tiered gold Alexandre Vauthier on an at-home red carpet. "Can't say I miss the frenetic energy of the red carpet or wearing high heels, but boy do I miss a pretty dress!!"
One of the stand-out examples of how to recognize the moment we are in came from Lead Actress - Limited Series/Movie winner (!!) Regina King, who wore a pink Schiaparelli suit with a T-shirt emblazoned with the image of Breonna Taylor during her pre-show interview on E! and to accept her trophy, where she made a point to urge viewers to vote in the upcoming election (something I expected would be a bigger theme of the night). During the pre-show King also took that opportunity to show off what she would have worn for the red carpet: a blue dress from Schiaparelli's Spring 2020 couture collection.
She was not alone in her statement dressing. Supporting Actress - Limited Series/Movie winner Uzo Adubo similarly wore a T-shirt with Breonna Taylor's name sprawled across it; Sterling K. Brown wore a black T-shirt with "BLM" proudly written in big font across his chest. Meanwhile, Lead Actress - Drama Series nominee Laura Linney wore a pantsuit with the word vote splayed across it. These were some of the rare but welcome instances of stars utilizing the language of fashion to say something more meaningful.
Other stand outs of the night included the reliably glam Yara Shahidi in Prada, D'Arcy Carden in Valentino, Issa Rae in Sergio Hudson, Shira Haas in Chanel, Cynthia Erivo in Versace, Yvonne Orgji in Azzi & Osta, Kerry Washington in D*lce & G*bbana, Dan Levy in Thom Browne and Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie winner Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Reese Witherspoon, Paul Mescal and Jeremy Pope in Louis Vuitton.
But the top toot of the night (aside from Zendaya) came from Lead Actress - Comedy winner Catherine O'Hara, who picked up her first ever acting Emmy (she previously won a prime-time Emmy in 1982 for writing on SCTV) wearing Maison Valentino Fall 2020 courtesy of stylist Andrew Gelwicks.
"There are only a few times in a person's life when their dreams really do come true. Being able to collaborate with Catherine O'Hara is definitely one of those moments for me, Gelwicks says of their work together. "There is a tremendous sense of fun, lightness, and joy I feel whenever I get to style her, and I hope that translates into the looks we create. It is incredibly rewarding to be able to highlight such a remarkably talented and kind woman's work."
And while a few stand-out moments were fun to gaze and gawk at, mostly I just found myself asking why throughout the five hours I spent watching red carpet coverage and then the ceremony itself. Though host Jimmy Kimmel tried to make self-deprecating jokes up top about the lack of necessity of an award show like this, the fact of the matter remained: the award show was happening amidst a news cycle that seems anything but celebratory. "But escapism"! I would have preferred Real Housewives of Potomac.
Sure, the show tried its hand with "I'm a cool mom"-esque antics, like having the awards delivered by people wearing hazmat suits (hilariously captured by Ramy Yousef on his Twitter, I'll admit) and redesigning the statuette so that she was carrying hand sanitizer, but mostly the show just felt like a prolonged Zoom meeting that I was on mute for. Besides the occasional full body shot from those who were in attendance at the Staples Center is Los Angeles (like Zendaya and Cynthia Erivo) or those who had professional camera set-ups for their socially distant Emmy parties (like O'Hara), most of the looks were not seen below the bust line. Seeing a close-up of Yahya's crotch after he stood up to accept his win felt... uplifting, but overall the tease of beauty without release felt mostly unresolved.
Let's be clear: The show wasn't a spectacular failure. In a way, I wish it was. Instead, like Timothée Chalamet during the Little Womenpress tour, there was a lot of circumstance without much pomp. I wish a photographer in a hazmat suit had been sent to each of these celebs mostly ritzy homes to help us celebrate their work — not just their work on screen, but the work of their stylists, the hair and make-up teams, and all of those who help bring the fantasy to life, not just last night, but each time these stars step out. In that sense, the importance of social media was underlined, with many stars tagging and crediting their team, giving due recognition to the creators and collaborators who labor to make them stand out. Credit to them.
But I look forward to a day when Glenn Close can once again gaze in awe and ecstasy upon Billy Porter, for it's those spectacular moments that cannot be captured virtually. As Stephen Sondheim wrote in the closing line of "Send In The Clowns": "Well, maybe next year."
Welcome to "Wear Me Out,"a column by pop culture fiend Evan Ross Katz that takes a look at the week in celebrity dressing. From award shows and movie premieres to grocery store runs, he'll keep you up to date on what your favorite celebs have recently worn to the biggest and most inconsequential events.
Photos via Getty