Oscars 2023: Dress To Obstruct

It was not a night of many outstanding dresses, but in the audience one did stick out, literally

The single most obvious dress. Photo: ABC

Like some of you, we watched the Oscars telecast on television, a set that has not replaced our smartphone. We woke up early to catch the red carpet segment (this year it was changed to champagne after more than six decades of the colour of chilli). There was, unfortunately, little that could keep us from going back to snoozing. The sight of Michelle Yeoh looking like a bride at Ipoh’s Pusing Public Restaurant (布先民众海鲜酒家) did not. Someone did catch our eye even when she wasn’t interviewed on the pale carpet. We snagged mere snatches of a black woman in a white gown. Later, reading reports on the arrival of the A-listers and the Bs and Cs, we learned that it was Nigerian singer-songwriter Tems (name on passport: Temilade Openiyi). Many had thought she looked good as she posed for the cameras. No one foresaw the problem her dress—with the hood (the other hooded attendee was Malala Yousafzai), directed upwards and surrounding her head like the naga Mucalinda—would create when she was seated in the Dolby Theatre.

As the award ceremony proceeded and when the camera panned across the audience, Tems and her clouded head could not escape notice. In her seat, she looked like she had a roof of a heavenly carriage over her head (or was it an incomplete transformation of a pumpkin?). The dress, reportedly by Lever Couture, a German label by Ukraine-born designer Lessja Verlingieri—with a whiff of Gaurav Gupta?—could easily be seen to obstruct those seated behind her. The 27-year-old seemed unfazed by the inconvenience she caused (inflicted was more like it) to those around her. Her defenders were impressed by how “ethereal” she looked. Question is, at whose expense? Tems’s seeming indifference is, perhaps, consistent with the behaviour of those of her generation—there is no need to be aware of your immediate surroundings and to take note of how your behaviour may affect/annoy others. And when fashion is in the equation, that comes first. Tems, a nominee (who co-wrote the best song contender Lift Me Up with Rihanna for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever), not only wanted to be noticed, she desired that her presence felt, too.

Unmissable Fan Bing Bing on the champagne carpet. Photo: AP

Fan Bing Bing, recently out of hiding as a result of a tax scandal in China and ready to make an entrance, had extended parts to her dress as well. Although her massive, distended, barrel-like sleeves might not have blocked anyone’s view, it could have irritated the two people seated beside her. The dress by Lebanese-Italian Tony Ward comprised of a slim, beaded, halterneck gown with an ‘outer’ attached to the main dress. It is not known if the much larger green part is removable, but if it isn’t, we do not envy the seated individuals flanking her. If they weren’t able to sit higher than the 1.68m tall actress, might their view of the stage be obscured too? Would they remain quietly and patiently throughout the evening’s proceedings, just as the guy to Tems’s left did? Is it ever right to tell a woman that her mighty gown is obtrusive?

Netizens have called Tems out for being “rude”. But impertinence that is the result of preference of dress is no longer so. Stars have long thrust their fashion choices into our field of vision whether what is before us is acceptable or not, without considering if they might come across as insolent. Visually intrusive looks have dominated not just the red carpet or the audience, but the stage too. And it has trickled down to everyday life, when, for example, commuters in public transport, too, pay no heed to the encroachment of extraneous parts of clothes upon other commuters. Tems, in her frothy sumptuousness, validated the disregard of being mindful of public spaces. Obtrusive dressing, like loud conversations or profanities, must, therefore, be tolerated. Compared to The Slap, perhaps this fashion inconvenience, while also unmannerly, was nothing?