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In 1995, when dirty-souled angel Joan Rivers first asked some unsuspecting celebrity “Who are you wearing?” it was a fairly legitimate question. Or at least the way it was phrased was new, and it worked. Clothes were being worn, designers were getting credit, and fans didn’t have to wonder “Hey, who made that dress?”
But the question quickly transformed from one of many to the ur-question; the raison d’être for red carpet interviews and possibly celebrity culture as a whole. Red carpet walkers became human billboards for Gucci or Galliano or old Gap turtlenecks. The question would be deployed and answered and then one celebrity would be dismissed so another could march up to Joan and repeat the process, like an assembly line for saying “Balenciaga.” It was boring af.
Recently, pushback against the question — long a cultural punchline, burned by the New York Times as “improper grammar” — started to come from celebrities themselves. With the “Ask Her More” initiative, famous women like Reese Witherspoon and Shonda Rhimes are demanding the chance to talk about other things outside of what’s hanging off their bodies.
The #AskHerMore celebrities are right to want to use their limited red carpet time for a wider breadth of things (of course they are, they’re led by perfect human Amy Poehler). If they’re asking for more and better questions, you can bet we’re going to get good-ass answers. Not to pat our culture on the back, as we know it’s often horrifying, but we actually have some really cool famous people it would be interesting to hear different answers from. If I only had a few minutes to talk to Issa Rae or Meryl Streep or Chrissy Metz or Gina Rodriguez (all Globe nominees), their outfits probably wouldn’t come up — but that doesn’t mean it’s not a valid question.
Yup, hi, welcome to Racked, clothing still matters. A designer’s career can be made by an awards show appearance, and stylists and fashion are as important a part of Hollywood glamour as poorly chosen award show hosts and terrifyingly determined PR people. Plus, people care; we here at this website care a whole bunch.
So just as famouses try to reject the conversation, E! and the broadcast networks have doubled down, coming up with new and inventive ways ask the exact same thing. From the mani cam (truly begging for a flip of the middle finger, which it got from Peggy Olsen herself) to 360-degree cameras that use the technology from The Matrix to capture every inch of a look, the Giuliana Seacrests of the world are determined to know all there is to know about what the cast of Empire uses to hide their nudity.
But here’s the thing: Yes, it’s a very valid question — it’s just not one celebrities need to answer personally. We don’t need or want to get this information from our TVs anymore; we can get it everywhere.
In 2017, and for a few years now, if you really want to know “who” a particular actor or singer or Food Network personality is wearing, you can just check their Instagram. Or their Snapchat. Or their stylist’s Instagram, or their stylist’s Snapchat. You can also check Twitter or Facebook or the celebrity’s personal branded content platform, or any social media account belonging to the designer, who will probably share the celebrity’s own post or have a post be shared by said celebrity or both. Also there are 10,000 unaffiliated social media accounts and websites (including this one, here for you), happily repeating the names that publicists are forwarding them. By the time Greta Gerwig or Bella Thorne or Knob Kardashian shows up to tell the cameras which designer made her look so fancy, we can sing along at home.
Famous people are only just okay as PR flacks, but luckily most of their work is done by the time a picture has been snapped. You don’t actually have to hear your favorite actress say a brand’s name to want to know more. I’ve never heard Kim Kardashian say the world Revolve (unless the question was “What does the world do around you?”), but thanks to the internet, I know that she’s a fan of their stuff. Cutting the question from Ross Matthews’s script doesn’t mean it won’t be answered. It’s already been answered, in an easily shareable, highly clickable, fully shoppable format.
So why does the question remain, even when it totally doesn’t?
Well, there’s only so much depth that can be achieved in the span of a two-minute interview with the third lead on a CBS procedural, especially when the questioner is trying to keep one eye open for Amy Schumer or Leonardo DiCaprio or the second lead on a CBS procedural. And as the “fun facts” that scroll underneath the scene outside the Whatever Memorial Theater prove year after year, network prep is both oddly thorough and thoroughly inane.
“Who are you wearing?” isn’t for us at home, and it isn’t for up-and-coming designers, it’s for the people asking and answering the question. It’s a shorthand that says “Hello, you here at this event,” “Yes, thank you, I am here at this event, here is the fact I brought in exchange.” “Thank you, you can go now.”
Joan Rivers herself argued that celebrities appreciated the question. “They’re nervous,” she explained, “They haven’t eaten for three days. They’re trying to remember who the damn designer is. Their hair is held together with extensions. You can’t ask them anything difficult!” That might have been true once, but now we’re all clamoring for more, stars included, and getting our designer information from the internet, like Americans. And anyways, won’t it be so much more fun to watch everyone try?