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A Look Back at Outrageous Oscars Style — and Why It Would Never Happen Today

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Let it be said: Björk is sorely missed. As is Cher. And Kim Basinger.

Remember that full-skirted, one-sleeved gown, paired with a half jacket, that Basinger designed herself and wore to the 1990 Oscars? If you don’t, here it is:

Kim Basinger
Kim Basinger (Photo: AP Images)

It was quite, ahem, memorable.

Or the glorious Cher and her Bob Mackie showgirl regalia, donned for the 1986 awards. And Björk, who metamorphosed into a swan for the 2001 show (pictured at top), and Celine Dion, who flipped around her Dior tux and wore it backwards in 1999.

Björk at the Oscars.
Björk at the Oscars. (Photo: AP Images)

Even the more conventional attire back then made headlines, just for its sheer unexpected normalcy: Take Sharon Stone in 1996, wearing a turtleneck from the Gap. Two years later, she paired a white shirt from the Gap with a Vera Wang lilac skirt.

Sharon Stone with her then husband, Phil Bronstein.
Sharon Stone with her then husband, Phil Bronstein. (Photo: Getty Images)

In this day of exclusives, 180-degree-angle red-carpet cameras, and incessant analysis of who wore what and why, imagine anyone taking that kind of risk now. Not likely, says sister styling team Wendi and Nicole Ferreira, who work with Octavia Spencer, Channing Tatum, and Elizabeth Banks. The two agree that yes, they too miss the sartorial daredevils. “Absolutely 100 percent. The Oscars are almost too safe. We can blame stylists for that. Stylists are afraid to take those risks because of the risk of being made fun of. We do miss those days of unexpected things. We try to take some risks, as many as we can,” Nicole Ferreira tells Yahoo Style.

Cher at the Oscars in 1986.
Cher at the Oscars in 1986. (Photo: Getty Images)

So what happened to make red-carpet style so darn expected? Mermaid gowns, jewel tones, slits and plunging necklines, and lots of gold seems to be the norm. “It changed when everyone got a stylist. We blame stylists. In the last 10 years, it has gotten progressively worse. There are more deals being made,” says Wendi Ferreira of celebrities who are only allowed to wear a certain designer because they have an ad campaign happening. Or, Ferreira notes, there’s cash exchanging hands.

Tara Swennen, who styles Kristen Stewart and Caitriona Balfe, also longs for those bygone Mackie moments. “I miss the days of Cher rolling in with a feather headpiece,” she says.

Today, actresses are more wary of scaring off fans with ensembles that are too outlandish and don’t play well outside of both coasts. “Women have just gotten more aware of social media and media in general — everyone has a comment and an angle. Musicians can own it a little more. It’s part of their whole creative vibe and aesthetic,” says Swennen.

She tries to push it as much as possible, as with the multi-colored flowing Valentino that Balfe wore to the BAFTAs.

“As a stylist, it thrills me when a new girl is willing to take risks. I will always tell them that a dress may land them on worst-dressed lists. I warn the girls about that, but they if they haven’t ended up on worst-dressed lists, they’re not trying hard enough,” says Swennen.

Says celebrity hairstylist Mark Townsend, who works on Dakota Johnson: “There’s so much pressure in the fashion world. This actress will only wear a designer if she’s the only one wearing that designer. There’s so many deals going on.”

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