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Red Carpet History: From the March of Death to “Who Are You Wearing?”

Long before, “Who are you wearing,” was uttered by mother-daughter duo Joan and Melissa Rivers on the crimson pathway of the Academy Awards in the 1990s to the chagrin of the New York Times as “improper grammar” and “stupid and shallow,” walking the red carpet was apparently a thing clear back in the 5th century.

From Ancient Greece to 20th Century Rails

According to most historians, the earliest reference to “walking a red carpet” was penned in 458 B.C. by Ancient Grecian playwright, Aeschylus, in his work Agamemnon. Unfortunately, Agamemnon’s parade down a “crimson path” doesn’t end in accolades, but rather murder at the hands of his wife Clytemnestra who sought revenge for her husband’s philandering.

Although a ceremonial red carpet was rolled out in Georgetown, South Carolina for President James Monroe when he disembarked from a riverboat in 1821, it appears that “red carpet treatment” really became synonymous with exemplary service when travel by railcar became prominent. In 1902, the New York Central placed plush red carpets down to direct people boarding the 20th Century Limited, a treat reserved for the country’s elite who could afford it.

Red Carpet Rolls Out to Hollywood

In 1922, legendary Hollywood showman Sid Grauman greeted his honored guests and stars with a red walkway as they arrived for the premier of Robin Hood at his Egyptian Theatre, and he is purported to be the first to bring the “red carpet treatment” to Hollywood. In a day of no internet or paparazzi, this was one of the rare moments where the big screen stars such as Grace Kelly, Jimmy Stewart and Joan Crawford could be seen outside the studio.

It was during the opening of the 1964 Oscars when long-time Academy Awards emcee Army Archerd directed the at-home television viewers to the stars arriving outside that we got our first taste of the red carpet treatment to come as Steve McQueen, Julie Andrews, Bobby Darin and more were called out by name as they arrived:
“Much of the excitement of every Academy Award presentation is generated by the prominent arriving guests. . .”

The Fusion of Fashion, Fame on the Red Carpet

In subsequent years, actors such as Barbra Streisand, who accepted her 1969 Oscar for Funny Girl in a sequined, see-through Scaasi pantsuit, and other pioneers in the 70s, 80s and early 90s all played a supporting role in the transition of the red carpet as the place to make a fashion statement. With the launch of People magazine in 1974, the red carpet, and the bold fashion choices of those who meandered down it, fueled interest in celebrity culture.

After Giorgio Armani set up shop on Hollywood’s Rodeo Drive in 1988, he began to outfit Hollywood’s biggest stars on their biggest nights. At the same time, as the public became ultra interested in celebrity culture, celebrities were bumping models off of magazine covers which prompted stylists to shift their focus to help the stars shine for award season.

Although there had been a few forays into televised coverage of red carpet fashion, it wasn’t until Joan Rivers hosted the 1994 Golden Globes red carpet for E! that all eyes tuned in to the pre-show parade. The next year, Melissa Rivers joined her mother for the Oscars and covering the red carpet became an entertaining spectacle all on its own.

“Joan and Melissa were the first people who came out and made it more of a true conversation between star and reporter,” said E!’s S.V.P. of production, Gary Snegaroff. “They asked about what [actresses] were wearing because that’s what the magazines would cover after the fact, and turned it into a candid conversation on the carpet where anything could happen.”

How to Use This Information

Don’t we all deserve a little red carpet treatment? That’s what we do at Sloane’s Carpet Secret no matter what hue you seek in your floor covering. We look forward to helping you make your carpet selection. Please give us a call at 303-300-9555 or contact us online to let us know how we can help.

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