How Oscars' fashion show changed through the decades

The Academy Awards are the biggest fashion runway on the planet. When Jennifer Lawrence, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried and other stars step out onto the red carpet Sunday, they will be primed to talk as much about what and who they are wearing as about the films that got them there.

But it wasn't always this way. The first Academy Awards, held in 1929 at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood, was a low-key affair — a small dinner and 15-minute ceremony. There was no red carpet, and no one's dresses were on display since the event was not televised. When Janet Gaynor picked up her lead actress award, she looked rather ordinary, in a dress that likely was bought in the children's section of a department store (she was only 5 feet tall).

Fast forward to the 21st century, where the Internet has provided a forum in which everyone can voice an opinion on what Hollywood wears, from Angelina Jolie's leg-baring black Versace, to Gwyneth Paltrow's white Tom Ford cape-and-gown ensemble at last year's event.

Here's a look back at how Oscars red carpet fashion has evolved.


Before the world could see the show

1931: Norma Shearer's husband, MGM studio head Irving Thalberg, thought she needed to ramp up her sex appeal to win a part in "The Divorcee" and hired costume designer Gilbert Adrian to help her get the right look. It worked. She got the part, took home a best actress award in 1931 and started a long-term collaborative relationship with the designer, foreshadowing today's actresses who work with specific designers or stylists.

1936: Bette Davis injected politics into awards show fashion in 1936, when, nominated for best actress for her role in "Dangerous" — a film she disdained — she attended wearing a simple blue-and-white dress and coat designed by Orry Kelly. Her intention was to look like the hired help — which was what she felt like under contract to Warner Bros.

1937: Luise Rainer thought her chances of winning best actress for "The Great Ziegfeld" were so slim in 1937 that she planned to stay home. A last-minute phone call from boss Louis B. Mayer ordered her to the ceremony, and she ended up picking up her award in her nightgown — but it was actually a pretty chic-looking nightgown.


A mix of glamour and patriotism

1940: Rainer could get away with a nightgown in 1937, but things changed in 1940, the first year the awards were filmed, and stars and their studio bosses realized the PR potential of glamour dressing. That's the year Vivien Leigh won for "Gone With the Wind," wearing a red poppy-print chiffon gown by Irene Gibbons, designed to be worn without a bra, that was about as far removed as possible from the corsets and hoop skirts she donned to play Scarlett O'Hara. The gown would still look gorgeous today.

1942: Jimmy Stewart struck a patriotic note in wartime in 1942, wearing duds that came courtesy of Uncle Sam: his Army Air Corps uniform.

1944: Jennifer Jones wore diamond earrings that reportedly were on loan to her from Harry Winston. It is believed this was the start of the now-common practice of jewelers lending precious baubles for the big night.


Stars align with dawn of TV age

1951: The black Christian Dior gown Marlene Dietrich wore to present the foreign-language Oscar in 1951 set the actress apart from the mostly pastel-wearing crowd. A sexy bow at the hip and slit that showed a lot of leg helped revive her career — and cemented Dior's place in Hollywood.

1951: Marilyn Monroe, also a presenter in 1951, had to deal with a ripped dress — that was quickly mended just before she went on stage, thereby avoiding what could have been one of the first celebrity wardrobe malfunctions.

In 1953, the Oscars were broadcast on television for the first time, and lest you think actresses of that day were more demure than today's crop, a worried academy appointed costume designer Edith Head to be the program's first "fashion consultant," charged with making sure no one ran afoul of the censors. She kept bunches of flowers and pieces of lace backstage, ready to be used to hide any dangerously exposed décolletage.

1954: Audrey Hepburn slipped into a yellow lace Givenchy gown to accept her award for "Roman Holiday" in 1954, vaulting the designer into the international spotlight and creating a path to fame and fortune that fashion designers follow to this day.