The winner of last night’s war of “who are you wearing?” on the red of carpet of the 91st annual Academy Awards was clear. Not even Emma Stone’s waffle dress could stand up to the fabulous extravagance of Pose star Billy Porter’s bold combination of tuxedo and fully-skirted gown.
The Christian Siriano-designed showstopper wasn’t just about turning heads, however: for Porter, his fashion choice was a push against the boundaries of masculinity and femininity in Hollywood high fashion and an exploration of the relationship between queerness and expression. Here’s how:
The gown was a tribute to an iconic moment in queer history
Despite the collective awe of Porter’s outfit, you may be surprised to learn he’s not the first person to rock the look: the tux-gown combo was pioneered by Hector Xtravanganza, icon from the very same 80’s New York ballroom subculture that Pose takes place in:
POSE star Billy Porter pays homage to ballroom icon, the Legendary Grandfather Hector Xtravaganza of the House of Xtravaganza, on Academy Awards Red Carpet pic.twitter.com/CoWaPzNZnH
— IMKnOtKRAzEE (@villa_cobos) February 25, 2019
This isn’t the first time Porter has made a splash on the red carpet
Porter may have had the most memorable outfit on this year’s red carpet, but that’s not to say he hadn’t been making noise beforehand. As little as one month ago, the actor showed up on the Golden Globes red carpet rocking a flowing pink cape designed by Randi Rahm. Little did we know that the cape – which took six months to make – was just Porter giving himself a challenge to upstage himself:
“That Globes look was DRAMA!”
Billy Porter: “hold my queer.” pic.twitter.com/km6FOgr4Sb
— Cameron Esposito (@cameronesposito) February 25, 2019
His decision to wear the gown was political
In an essay published on Vogue, Porter spoke at length made a point of highlighting his outfit was in no way performative – but rather an authentic expression of self: “We wanted to play between the masculine and the feminine. This look was interesting because it’s not drag. I’m not a drag queen, I’m a man in a dress.”
In the same statement to Vogue, Porter elaborated how his approach to fashion – culminating with this Oscars look – isn’t just about looking good, but rather his political responsibility as a queer celebrity to challenge norms via how he presents himself: “I’m in a space where, being on Pose, I’m invited to red carpets and I have something to say through clothes. My goal is to be a walking piece of political art every time I show up. To challenge expectations. What is masculinity? What does that mean?”
Putting on the dress was an act of radical self-love
For Porter wearing the gown was a revelation: “[At the first fitting in the gown,] I felt alive. I felt free. And open, and radiant. And beautiful! Which has not always been the case for me. I haven’t always felt so good about myself. It really is astonishing how much of an affect clothes have on your spirit.” So, next time you go to change into your after-work sweatpants, maybe consider the Billy Porter special instead.