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‘This old thing? I’ve had it for years’: the rise of the red carpet re-wear

Stars are increasingly looking to rewear outfits they have previously been photographed in on the red carpet - getty
Stars are increasingly looking to rewear outfits they have previously been photographed in on the red carpet - getty

To you or I, throwing on a dress we’ve had hanging in our wardrobe for a few years might seem like a totally normal solution to a what-to-wear-to-a-party dilemma.

But when you’re one of the world’s most in-demand actresses, who could secure a six-figure sum (or more) simply to wear a new dress at an awards ceremony for a couple of hours, it must be incredibly tempting to simply take the money and, well, pose away. But there’s a growing refusal of the accepted awards season norm.

Once, it involved a gown appearing on the catwalks of Milan or Paris, and within weeks being worn by the latest Oscar-nominated actress doing her publicity rounds, often following many tense negotiations between her “people” and the fashion house’s “people”.

Instead, stars are redefining what it means to throw on “this old thing”. The woman leading the way is Cate Blanchett, a favourite to win Best Actress at the Oscars on Sunday night. While she is no stranger to revisiting old outfits, the Australian star of Tár  has made it her mission in recent months to appear at every glitzy awards, dinner or photo call, giving an older outfit a new outing. Unlike those of us peering into our wardrobes and despairing that we have nothing to wear, Blanchett could never make that complaint: hers must be more of a warehouse than a two-door number from Ikea.

Nevertheless, she and her stylist Elizabeth Stewart (one of an exclusive group of uber-powerful image curators working in Hollywood today) have masterminded a plan which has meant each outfit looks as fresh and modern as the first time it was worn.

At Tár’s premiere in Berlin last month, Blanchett re-wore the colourful tiered Givenchy gown she debuted at the 2018 Cannes film festival. A wide leather belt made it look moodier and edgier. “Not only is this extraordinary Givenchy gown too fabulous to wear only once, re-wearing it illustrates an important point,” Stewart wrote on Instagram. “In a world where tons of clothes end up in landfills every year, we can choose to be aware of our impact on the planet and make mindful choices.”

Blanchett at the Tar premier in the tiered Givenchy gown she debuted at the 2018 Cannes film festival - getty
Blanchett at the Tar premier in the tiered Givenchy gown she debuted at the 2018 Cannes film festival - getty

Stewart is right that many of Blanchett’s outfits are simply too spectacular to never see the light of day again. An Alexander McQueen suit with exquisite statement blue silk sleeves crafted to look like giant rosebuds was first worn in 2019 but got another outing at the London Critics’ Circle Awards in February, while a split-sleeve Loewe suit originally seen in 2018 was revived for the Independent Spirit Awards last weekend.

Blanchett in 2019 at a screening of Where'd You Go, Bernadette in New York - getty
Blanchett in 2019 at a screening of Where'd You Go, Bernadette in New York - getty

You may eye roll at it being revolutionary to wear something twice, but in this high stakes VIP world, it genuinely is. “The idea of wearing something once seems so outdated and unnecessary to me,” says Clare Richardson, a fashion editor who made her name styling celebrities for magazine covers and has now founded Reluxe Fashion, a second-hand e-tailer which makes old look as desirable as new. “It’s beautiful to see people thinking slightly differently, often looking more like themselves and wearing their opinions with integrity and style.”

While the monetary side of red carpet dressing is largely shrouded in mystery, Blanchett admitted in an interview with the Business of Fashion website this week that “you can’t deny that there is an economy of sorts on the red carpet … And beyond even the ‘fashion industry’ there are a lot of attendant industries that are reliant upon that exchange and that exposure.” She has found a way to make both her contractual obligations and her re-wearing mission work in tandem.

As part of her role as an ambassador for Louis Vuitton high jewellery, the actress has been showcasing the label’s creations on the red carpet, re-wearing a pearl and tourmaline necklace first seen at the Baftas at the Time Women of the Year gala this week.

That Baftas look included a re-wear of her 2015 Oscars gown, but Blanchett wasn’t the only woman who flew the flag for recycling old clothes (or “opting for archive” if you’d like the upscale description) that night.

The Princess of Wales evoked a social media frenzy when fans spotted she’d worn the flowing white Alexander McQueen dress she debuted at the 2020 Baftas altered, replacing a floral corsage detail with a flowing chiffon scarf. With the addition of statement Zara earrings and long black velvet gloves, Catherine proved the same item can look entirely different with clever tweaks.

The Prince and Princess of Wales at the 2023 Baftas - Getty
The Prince and Princess of Wales at the 2023 Baftas - Getty

This royal dedication to digging deep into the wardrobe rather than buying new has extended to other engagements recently; the Princess also retrieved the black gloves she wore for Prince William’s Sandhurst passing out parade in 2006, for a St David’s Dday parade in Windsor, and opted for a pair of pearl earrings she’s had since 2011 for engagements in Port Talbot.

Well-known women of all ages are uniting in their “this old thing” approach, even if it’s not something they’ve personally worn before. Gen Z heroine Zendaya, 26, could have her pick of new couture creations yet often opts for vintage. Most recently, she attended the NAACP awards wearing a strapless black and lime Versace gown from the label’s 2002 Couture collection, later changing into a white Prada crop top and skirt re-worked from the spring/summer 1993 collection.

Zandaya in a Versace gown from 2002 - Getty
Zandaya in a Versace gown from 2002 - Getty

Meanwhile, 60-year-old Michelle Yeoh – Blanchett’s rival for the Best Actress award – wore a gold Christian Dior suit from the Fall 2018 Couture show at the Baftas, and Rooney Mara, 37, was one of the chicest women on the SAG Awards red carpet in a McQueen dress from 2016.

Rooney Mara in a McQueen dress from 2016 at the SAG Awards - getty
Rooney Mara in a McQueen dress from 2016 at the SAG Awards - getty

On Thursday evening, Jerry Hall, 66, and her daughter Georgia May Jagger, 31, proved wearing something old elevates you from cookie cutter celeb to genuinely interesting woman. At the Green Carpet Awards in Los Angeles they wore coordinating vintage Vivienne Westwood dresses. Hall is a long-time fan of the label, and chose a pale blue design for her 2016 wedding to Rupert Murdoch.

Jerry Hall and daughter Georgia May Jagger in coordinating vintage Vivienne Westwood dresses - getty
Jerry Hall and daughter Georgia May Jagger in coordinating vintage Vivienne Westwood dresses - getty

It’s this idea of longevity and personal style which makes the concept of re-wearing one that should be glamorised, says the stylist and “queen of thrift” Bay Garnett. “The vanity that something has to be new to be a new look has always baffled me,” she says. “If you only ever wear things once, there’s no sense of what your personal style is, it comes across as you having no style, like an influencer who throws a dress out after being photographed in it once. It’s now much cooler to go against that disposable culture.”

Blanchett echoed that thought; “I think that there’s a lot of people like me who are tired of the churn,” she told BoF. But no matter how bored we are of red carpets being a sea of new, catwalk-fresh looks, is all this celebrity re-wearing genuinely game changing, or ultimately little more than tiresome virtue signalling?

“Kinda defeats the whole point of a re-wear if you’re basically having a new outfit made,” the fashion bloggers Tom and Lorenzo complained after one of Blanchett’s upcycling experiments. Then again, the duo also noticed an unexpected upside to the strategy, even if it wouldn’t work for all of us; “We’re starting to think Cate’s been re-wearing so many of her old dresses just so people can comment on the fact that she’s decided not to age,” they wrote.