Three years into the Great Fashion Experiment that is Anna Wintour’s takeover of the Tony Awards red carpet, I think it’s fair to say that while things are looking, literally, better — there is less kooky costume, and more simple elegance — this particular awards show is never going to be a major fashion magnet.
Theater is a place where character trumps celebrity and style, and where dress lives at the service of the stage, not the person. That’s as it should be. Frankly, it’s kind of nice to see a red carpet not be so fraught with marketing machinations.
So even though Bette Midler looked like a model of adult chic in silver sequined Michael Kors, and Denée Benton was rightfully christened “most fashionable ingénue” by Vogue in green strapless Oscar de la Renta, glittering leaves tumbling down her long white skirt, E! isn’t breaking down the door to do “Live From the Red Carpet” on Sunday.
Which does not mean, however, there wasn’t a really notable fashion moment on view.
Although the evening as a whole has been widely described as nonpolitical, with Kevin Spacey as host opting to mock the nominated productions instead the news, and most presenters and nominees seemingly steering away from any obvious proselytizing (Stephen Colbert being a notable exception), in fact a pretty serious statement was made by most of the crowd. It was made with their clothes, not their comments.
I am talking, of course, about the dominant shade of the night: blue.
The blue that glowed from the lapel of Mark Hamill’s tuxedo and the bodice of Scarlett Johansson’s Michael Kors evening suit. The blue that formed the satin ribbon worn by most attendees in support of the American Civil Liberties Union, as it was during the Oscars in February. The blue that telegraphs belief in individual rights, and pledges its troth to an organization that has been much in the spotlight since discussion began around President Trump’s travel ban.
And that was echoed in the larger canvas of many of the actual outfits of the night, especially when it came to men’s wear.
Blue tuxedos reached critical mass, seen on Mr. Spacey, who not only chose an iridescent navy Isaia number for his (post-medley) entrance but closed the night in a blue velvet dinner jacket. Also the most-watched nominee, Ben Platt of “Dear Evan Hansen,” who won for best leading actor in a musical while wearing custom-made David Hart marine blue. Plus Josh Gad, Andrew Rannells and Alex Lacamoire. To name a few. They suavely, and convincingly, chipped away at the black tie wall. Blue tie? Why not?
Then there were the blue dresses: on Sally Field and Rachel Bay Jones, both in Christian Siriano, and on Kate Baldwin as well. Ms. Jones took home the award for a featured actress in a musical (“Dear Evan Hansen”) in a strapless gown the shade of the Caribbean Sea.
Sure, there were other shades on view, most notably white (see Sarah Paulson in Rodarte, Ms. Johansson, Jennifer Ehle in Temperley and Chrissy Teigen in Pamela Roland), black (Alex Wek in Oscar de la Renta, Uma Thurman in a slinky long shirtdress, Tina Fey in peekaboo latticed Sally Lapointe) — and black and white (Anna Kendrick in Miu Miu).
Patchwork, as seen in Cobie Smulders’s strapless Schiaparelli Couture and Bee Shaffer’s Alexander McQueen, also had a surprise moment. So did strapless — there was a lot of strapless — and princess skirts, which seem to be the new mermaid. It’s a step forward. Ditto Cynthia Erivo’s segue from last year’s over-the-top tutti-frutti ruffled Roberto Cavalli to this year’s slinky plunging Chris Gelinas noir (she gets my vote for most improved).
But it was the many shades of blue in all their multiple incarnations that left the lasting impression.
And suggested that despite the recent understandable trend toward seizing the award pulpit to have your political say, which has thus far produced experiences both galvanizing and occasionally strident, it is possible to send a potent message of solidarity and support — to demonstrate where your commitment lies — even without making a speech.
The theater is a world familiar with the telling gesture and the calculated choice, after all, and its inhabitants used their expertise at the Tonys for all to see. The red carpet was the stage, the gowns and the glamour the language. And the pictures made the point.