Vintage & Upcycled Gowns at the 83rd Academy Awards: Cause or Controversy?

2 Mar

Next to the obvious winners of the coveted Oscar, vintage and sustainable fashion won big-time, or did it?

{Vintage & Upcycled Gowns at the 83rd Academy Awards:
Cause or Controversy?

From what I have been able to gather, since I couldn’t cover the event myself, three ladies walked down the red carpet in vintage or upcycled vintage dresses: Marisa Tomei, Anne Hathaway and Livia Firth.

Marisa Tomei
Combining the decade’s two most notable styles — ball gown tulle and corset-sheath dress silhouettes, Marisa Tomei wore a two-toned 1950s Charles James. This dress is sultry, girlie and absolutely chic.

Perhaps, Tomei’s wearing of such an iconic dress was serendipitous as one of the era’s legends Jane Russell died the very next day after the Feb. 27 ceremony.

Russell no doubt is beaming over the style which she made famous is still living on.

Anne Hathaway
As co-hostess for the evening’s industry awards, Anne Hathaway began the night of 1,000 dresses (not really, but seriously there was eight dress changes) on the red carpet in a red vintage couture Valentino.

My heart just swoons over the cascading bustle and train! My prediction: Here comes a wedding dress trend!

Livia Firth
But it is Livia Firth, wife of Best Actor winner Colin, which steals the cake for the most-talked-about dress. For some Livia’s choice is heralded, but for others it is an abomination.

Designed by Gary Harvey, Livia’s dress consisted of 11 vintage dresses upcycled into one final gown. As a huge proponent of eco-friendly and sustainable fashion, Livia tends to make a statement with her style. This time, some say she went a little too far by using 11 dresses from the 1930s — a direct tribute to the era of The King’s Speech, the film her husband starred in.

“Vintage clothing is a finite resource, and wearable 1930s gowns (are) becoming increasingly rare,” commented user Elena on

“Wearing vintage or using elements from gowns that can’t be repaired is a good message; destroying a finite cultural resource that is an important part of our social history is, however, not sustainable at all.”

Yes, I share Elena’s exact sentiment. As a purist, my heart sank when I learned Livia’s dress was upcycled from nearly a dozen early-century gowns.

While I also am a huge proponent of sustainable style, I draw the line when sustainable creeps into the fringe of disregarding and showing a lack of appreciative respect for one-of-a-kind irreplaceable piece of vintage heritage.

Now, like many other opinions in the blog-o-sphere, I also believe that if the dresses were damaged and deteriorating beyond wearable or historical use, then by all means let’s upcycle. However, I have a sneaking suspicion that this is not entirely the case for all 11 of these 1930s dresses.

According to’s reporting, 360 Degrees Vintage said the dresses were damaged, but apparently this statement is slightly stronger in language and an allusive contradiction to a direct reply the company made on their Facebook page answering fans’ questions regarding the dress’ conditions.

Again, to me, it smacks of another celebrity trying to make a statement for a good cause but losing the point of the cause by making a statement.

Give your opinion on the Thrifty Vintage Chic Facebook fan page.

Did this year’s vintage and upcycled red carpet dresses help or hurt vintage appreciation and sustainable fashion?

All images on Thrifty Vintage Chic are shot in the context of real life. All images on Thrifty Vintage Chic are free from post-production “airbrushing” or touch-ups. All images and written copy on Thrifty Vintage Chic are copyright protected and may not be used without first gaining written permission.

3 Responses to “Vintage & Upcycled Gowns at the 83rd Academy Awards: Cause or Controversy?”

  1. kris March 3, 2011 at 2:32 AM #

    I would have to wonder what the condition of the original pieces were as well. Let’s just appreciate her concern for sustainability and fashion and move on. Lovely looks for all three women, but Anne is my fav. Great post!


  2. Dawn March 3, 2011 at 1:06 PM #

    It will come as no surprise that I agree with you, Robin.

    Your comment says it all: “Again, to me, it smacks of another celebrity trying to make a statement for a good cause but losing the point of the cause by making a statement.” Excellent commentary. Your decision to voice your concern does, in my opinion, open up a dialogue about what is truly “green” and sustainable. Unfortunately, many times in the rush to jump on the bandwagon of a latest movement, what the movement truly means gets lost in translation. She is a beautiful woman and I am thrilled Mr. Firth won,; less than enthusiastic over Mrs. Firth’s fashion choice.


  3. Laurie March 7, 2011 at 9:19 AM #

    I think it is sick to cut up gowns to patch them together and then re-dye (I suppose) to make another dress. Why can’t they just reproduce the elements and make a new dress rather than cutting up vintage dresses?

    I really love the red dress, but it easily could have been remade, not recycled.


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