The Oscars haven't always been the world's most high-stakes prom.
In the new book Made for Each Other, Fashion and the Academy Awards (Bloomsbury, $29.95), British writer and TV reporter Bronwyn Cosgrave chronicles in gossipy, colorful detail how Oscar dressing has changed - or not - through the decades.
Just in time for Sunday's ceremony, we present a timeline of highlights from Cosgrave's book, all the way back to the days when the Academy Awards weren't much more than a glorified drama club banquet. Page 3E.
FIRST ACADEMY AWARDS, May 16, 1929: Best actress Janet Gaynor wears a knit, knee-length dress with a Peter Pan collar. If it looks like it came from a children's store, consider how hard it is to find grownup clothes when you're only 5 feet tall and 96 pounds.
Seventh Academy Awards, Feb. 27, 1935: Claudette Colbert, a best actress nominee for It Happened One Night, decides not to attend and to take a cross-country train trip. After she is named the winner, her studio chief, Harry Cohn, sends someone to drag her off the train, which hadn't left, and to the ceremony. Colbert arrives wearing a two-piece traveling suit that she had Paramount Pictures costume designer Travis Banton make for her trip.
NINTH ACADEMY AWARDS, MARCH 4, 1937: Luise Rainer, nominated for The Great Ziegfeld, is home when her studio chief, Louis B. Mayer, calls, ordering her to attend. She doesn't own many dresses, so she wears her nightgown. "It was the nicest dress I owned," the surprise winner said in 2003.
12TH ACADEMY AWARDS, FEB. 29, 1940: Vivien Leigh, the favored winner for Gone With the Wind, selects a red-poppy-covered gown from dressmaker to the stars Irene Gibbons, who runs the dress department at Los Angeles luxury department store Bullock's Wilshire.
13TH ACADEMY AWARDS, FEB. 27, 1941: With World War II under way, the academy tells attendees to wear dark, semiformal attire, and the government asks designers to make clothes only from domestic material to help the war effort. Ginger Rogers, best actress winner for Kitty Foyle, wears an Irene Gibbons dress of gray peau de soie with black American-made lace.
16TH ACADEMY AWARDS, MARCH 2, 1944: Selznick Studio head David Selznick has a stylist dress his publicity-shy nominee and lover, Jennifer Jones (The Song of Bernadette). Anita Colby chooses for Jones a conservative, knee-length black taffeta dress with a white ruffled collar. The photographers go wild.
23RD ACADEMY AWARDS, MARCH 23, 1951: Presenter Marlene Dietrich's black Christian Dior gown is the first dress to make Oscar headlines. She works with Dior so closely, she even tells him how she'll be lighted onstage so he can slit the skirt for the perfect flash of calf.
27TH ACADEMY AWARDS, MARCH 30, 1955: Grace Kelly, winner for The Country Girl, has good friend and five-time Oscar costume design winner Edith Head produce a cloak and slim gown of aquamarine French duchesse satin. Over the next five years, Head dominates Oscar designing, producing originals for nominees and presenters.
28TH ACADEMY AWARDS, MARCH 21, 1956: Joanne Woodward doesn't think she'll win for The Three Faces of Eve, so she makes her dress herself, out of $100 worth of emerald green satin stitched in a barn at her Connecticut home. She wins.
38TH ACADEMY AWARDS, APRIL 18, 1966: For the first ceremony televised in color, academy fashion consultant Edith Head sends a letter to nominees and presenters asking them to wear vibrant colors. Anxious best actress nominee Julie Christie (Darling) makes herself something comfortable: a gold lame trouser suit. Christie, who wins, is the first high-profile woman to wear pants to the event. No great outcry arises, possibly because this is the coldest night in ceremony history.
39TH ACADEMY AWARDS, APRIL 10, 1967: Academy president Gregory Peck tries to blunt the swinging '60s influence by banning turtlenecks, love beads and miniskirts. Faye Dunaway, nominated for Bonnie and Clyde, hires top costume designer Theodora Van Runkle, who makes a floor-length gown out of black satin mohair left over from costumes she did for The Thomas Crown Affair.
41ST ACADEMY AWARDS, APRIL 14, 1969: Barbra Streisand goes to designer-friend Arnold Scassi, who thinks a bell-bottom trouser suit would be fresh and modern. He makes one out of sheer black tulle covered with sequins and lines it with nude silk. Scassi doesn't consider how intense the lights at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion will be for TV, so the suit ends up being all-but transparent when Streisand hits the stage to pick up her best actress trophy for Funny Girl.
44TH ACADEMY AWARDS, APRIL 10, 1972: Jane Fonda, nominated for Klute and in the spotlight because of her anti-Vietnam War activities, opts for a simple black 4-year-old Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche pantsuit with silver buttons and a Maoist collar.
49TH ACADEMY AWARDS, MARCH 28, 1977: Faye Dunaway borrows a karate-style pantsuit from designer Geoffrey Beene. The best actress winner for Network says she wanted something simple.
58TH ACADEMY AWARDS, MARCH 24, 1986: Academy fashion consultant Nolan Miller, famed for his work on the TV series Dynasty and Hotel, issues a dress code telling everyone to look like a movie star. Cher, a presenter, shows up in the most controversial outfit to date: a 12-piece, midriff-baring feathery black Bob Mackie creation. "It was all about fun," Cher says later.
61ST ACADEMY AWARDS, MARCH 29, 1989: Jodie Foster accepts the best actress trophy for The Accused in an ill-fitting aqua dress with a huge bow on the rear end. It was a spur-of-the-moment purchase in a Rome boutique that would change how women dress for the Oscars.
62ND ACADEMY AWARDS, MARCH 26, 1990: Tired of bad Oscar clothes, new academy fashion consultant Fred Hayman, a well-known Rodeo Drive store owner, offers to style attendees from head to toe. Georgio Armani has a similar idea, and he and Hayman end up competing to dress Oscargoers. Among Armani's first clients: Jodie Foster, lured by an Armani recruiter.
68TH ACADEMY AWARDS, MARCH 25, 1996: Sharon Stone, a nominee for Casino, at a loss about what to wear, invites costume designer Ellen Mirojnick to help her the night before the ceremony. Mirojnick takes from Stone's closet a black, floor-length Valentino skirt and an Armani dress to wear as a coat. She then tells Stone to dig out a T-shirt; the closest thing Stone has is a mock turtleneck from the Gap.
69TH ACADEMY AWARDS, MARCH 24, 1997: Nicole Kidman, attending as Mrs. Tom Cruise, personally selects a lime green satin gown with hand-stitched embroidery from John Galliano for Dior, with whom she has a promotional contract for red carpet clothes.
72ND ACADEMY AWARDS, MARCH 26, 2000: Hilary Swank, nominated for Boys Don't Cry, ends up in a strapless gown from Randolph Duke, who was called in a panic the Friday night before the ceremony after a custom-made Galliano didn't work for her.
73RD ACADEMY AWARDS, MARCH 25, 2001: Presenter Renee Zellweger makes a splash in a 1959 Jean Desses from a Los Angeles vintage couture boutique. It requires five fittings and 52 hours of restoration.
Sharon Fink can be reached at (727) 893-8525 or email@example.com.
The red carpet on TV
You have two choices for following Sunday's Oscar fashion parade: Joan and Melissa Rivers return to duty for the TV Guide Channel at 6 p.m., and Ryan Seacrest and Giuliana DePandi lead the annual E! festivities, also at 6 p.m. Check your cable guide for channels.
Tune in to WFTS-Ch. 28 at 8 p.m. for the awards ceremony.