Women Over Fifty Own the Red Carpet Right Now
In the multiverse, there is an alternate reality where Everywhere, Everywhere, All At Once stars a male lead. This was originally how the film was supposed to be, which would be a tragedy for us all. We would not have been graced with Michelle Yeoh’s profound performance as an overwhelmed immigrant mother in an unraveling interdimensional universe struggling to accept her daughter for who she is. Nor would we have seen her months-long string of fabulous award show looks, which captivated fashion fans as much as her embodiment of the character Evelyn Wang.
I remember where I was when I first realized Michelle Yeoh was outperforming everyone on the red carpet this award season. I was on the couch watching the Golden Globes, where Yeoh walked away with the Best Actress award. She was wearing a sparkling blue Armani Privé gown, its waistline peplum gathered at her thighs like rippling water, sparkling as if it was bathed in glistening rays of moonlight. Her stylist, Jordan Johnson, recalls this dress, and Yeoh’s Golden Globes win as a wake up call. “Right after she won the Globes, everyone who was partially asleep, immediately woke up,” she tells me over the phone from Los Angeles. “I've never had so many people reach out about a look in my life or my entire career. It was fascinating to watch.”
In her 40-year film career, Yeoh has never worked with a stylist and she has also never been nominated for or won a Golden Globe. When she arrived on stage for her historic win, she said, “Forty years, not letting go of this.” Then she went on to say, “I turned sixty last year!” to a round of applause from the audience. “And I think all of you women understand this…as the days, years, and the numbers get bigger, it seems like opportunities start to get smaller.” Yeoh’s win was not only historic, but emotional. To all of those on the internet celebrating along with her, it was an acknowledgment that women can exist outside of the confines of “Young Hollywood”—a phrase the Oscars red carpet hosts uttered every other minute at the pre-show, whether intentional or not—and still receive the praise they deserve, even if it’s overdue. It was a reminder that life-long dreams don’t have to die after you turn fifty. Yeoh proved she was in her prime now—even saying in her Oscars speech, "never let anyone say you're past your prime"—despite outdated industry standards, and Johnson was helping her dress the part.
Her red carpet choices were apt for the moment, not simply because they were gorgeous but because they also challenged the ignorant notions of, “dressing your age.” When I asked Johnson about this, and told her how powerful it felt to see Yeoh in experimental gowns that were far from the conservative looks or skirt suit sets "women of a certain age" feel obligated to wear, she tells me, “Michelle was someone you can't put in a box.” Then she reminds me, “Initially the movie [EEAAO] was written for a man—then they changed it to Michelle. She is a little bit of a rule breaker, in the best way possible. She instinctively knows what works for her and what she can do and what she is capable of and that lends itself to dressing, as well.”
The first look Johnson styled Yeoh in was a bright yellow Gucci dress for the The School for Good and Evil premiere, a film Yeoh starred in alongside Charlize Theron. The draping gathered like a rising curtain at her hip, revealing a leg slit, accessorized with a pair of pointy blue heels and a matching bag. Originally, Yeoh wasn’t sure how she felt about the dress hanging on the rack, but she tried it on and, according to Johnson, “realized it was amazing.” It’s also when Johnson realized that the actress was game for more “fashion forward looks.”
In the first two fittings, she noticed a pattern. “Michelle was going for more out-of-the-box looks. And I started to slowly one up it. You kind of want to dip your toe into more of the fashion forward looks—you don't want to come in guns blazing. But I learned that she gravitated towards high fashion pieces that had an interesting element. Michelle doesn't really go for a simple dress. She really is drawn to couture and craftsmanship. I love that about her."
Dipping your toes into a high fashion pool looks a little like this: Wearing one of the final looks from Matthieu Blazy’s Bottega spring collection, a pale yellow gown with a fringed skirt that bounces like a bubble, modeling for the cover of Time’s Icon of The Year issue in a structural black and white polka-dot Off-White dress with black leather gloves and skirt edges so sharp they looked like steps, attending the Santa Barbara International Film Festival in a pastel blue Valentino look fit for a celestial Greek oracle adorned with a sculptural collar made of thick gold squares, folding open like the petals of a blooming flower around the neck, and showing up to a film festival held in the land of Hawaiian shirts and Golf course-wear (Palm Springs) in a Schiaparelli two-piece with a beaded orange Bolero dripping in beaded embellishments mimicking the uniform of Spanish bullfighters and an enormous blue skirt that spiraled inward like a sleepy, super-sized ranunculus.
All of these looks that Johnson put together led Yeoh to her Armani Golden Globes gown. “We constantly wanted to keep people guessing.” And keep people guessing they did. Yeoh’s red carpet looks excited people online because they didn’t check the same boxes, or even fit into a box at all. Johnson took note of Yeoh's excitement over the Schiaparelli dress at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, and thought, "Okay! She's down to really have fun with this. It's almost like she would wear that to a dinner party and she wouldn't look out of place because she just carries it so effortlessly.”
The thing about being in your “peak” is that it doesn’t feel effortless, it feels heavy. We’ve been told, all our lives, that we will peak at different things at different points and then it is all downhill. And then there’s this enormous amount of pressure of how exactly do you dress for that fleeting moment? How do you immortalize “your peak” with the clothes you wear and photograph to display and point at when you tell people about the moment in your life when everything happened for you? Yeoh’s award show speeches make it clear she feels like she is at that inflection point in her career where her talent is being acknowledged, where her dreams are coming true, and where she is standing up to those nagging voices telling her it is too late. But she doesn’t look like the popular kid in High School, trying too hard, dressing in this moment that won’t last. There is something more ethereal and almost eternal about these looks, which is maybe why I had no idea Yeoh was only 5′ 4”.
Johanson points this out before saying, “And it is so interesting to watch her in a shoot because she is this person with such a small frame and she feels so delicate, but she's also so strong, as we know. That dichotomy lends itself to so many silhouettes that most can't really pull off, especially when you're that petite.”
At the Critics Choice awards, Yeoh wore a long Carolina Herrera dress with a hot pink ruffled train that started at her elbows like a shawl would, following at her heels instead of engulfing her. At the SAG awards, the actress wore a long strapless black velvet Schiaparelli couture column dress that both her and Johnson referred to as “that dress.” Its sequined yellow fringes looked like a luxurious high fashion hay, entangled and bursting. For Indie Spirits, the dress was a royal blue Gucci with pleated discs intertwined around Yeoh’s torso like a sash. On anyone else of her stature, the gowns could have easily been overpowering, but on someone with an unshakable presence like Yeoh, they felt right.
And for the Oscars, the culmination of all their work, Yeoh wasn’t looking for anything specific. Instead she adopted an attitude like a first time bride shopping for the dress: "It was less a conversation of what she is looking for and more of a feeling when she puts it on.”
She felt it when she put on a Dior Haute Couture that was coincidentally marital, with tiers of white feathers. On a whim, the day before the Academy Awards, Yeoh also decided to wear the diamond necklace, originally intended to be worn the traditional way, in her hair. “It was the brilliance of Michelle!” Johnason says. Whereas most of Yeoh’s looks up until that point had this powerful sculptural bigness to them, this one was notably delicate and feminine. It reminded me of what you envision yourself wearing as an adult when you’re a child—and the power of giving in to that youthful splendor to fulfill this lifelong dream is what really stood out to me about it. It felt like she was marrying the person her younger self always knew she’d become.
By the time award season had ended, everyone in the Harper’s Bazaar office noticed most of the best dressed guests this year had been women over fifty, and all of our best dressed lists reflected this. But it was always Yeoh’s looks that had us consistently in awe. Yes, she was dressing the part of a talented actress finally getting her flowers, but also of a woman entering not just her prime, but an infinite peak.
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