The oldest dress was the newest thing at the Oscars
Who would wear 'this old thing'? Rita Moreno, that's who!
That the Academy Awards have come to represent the acme of awards ceremonies is demonstrated not only by the dogged manner in which actors pursue the diminutive golden figurine, but also by the tremendous viewership the televised event solicits every year.
It is the most popular, and prestigious, iteration of competitive pageantry in the entertainment industry. And, aside from the voyeuristic draw of the stars on display – in addition to the symbolic tensions and our competitive allegiances – we watch the Oscars because they have become an institution, a cultural landmark not unlike the Olympic Games.
We are well-versed in the ritual of the event, and look forward to assuming our role as the all-seeing, unseen audience: we feel, possibly, in some unconscious way, like we are participating in the creation of a history.Accordingly, there was something terribly canny about Rita Moreno’s attire last Sunday night in Los Angeles. The octogenarian actress brought an old friend out of retirement, donning the very same dress in which, 56 years ago, she accepted an Oscar for her performance as Anita in Robert Wise’s beloved West Side Story. According to her daughter, Fernanda Gordon, Moreno chose her own fabric and commissioned an architect to create the gown for the Academy Awards in 1962; and, aside from slight modifications to the sleeves and neckline, the auspicious article has emerged from its long hibernation intact.Moreno’s gamble – a kind of one-woman retrospective – has garnered more attention than the sartorial efforts of most current contenders, which is interesting. Is our approbation of “this old thing” an implicit rejection of the relentless novelty ordinarily mandated by Hollywood culture? The dress itself is not, after all, particularly spectacular. But, for an evening – and in the midst of important cultural upheavals in the entertainment industry – Moreno successfully embodied not only the ongoing legacy of the Academy Awards, but also the longstanding contributions of women and minorities, who are still grappling for recognition, 56 years after this (no doubt disconcerted) dress first made its red carpet debut.