Fashion insights by Moda Database

How do celebrities afford Oscar gowns?

The Truth & Economics Behind The Expensive Red Carpet Outfits Donned By A-Listers

Hundreds, millions, thousands. That’s not a rapper’s song, but the list of famous celebrity Oscar gown price tags. From 6 million dollar jewels to priceless custom-made fashion, the 2021 Oscars were a parade of fantastic prices swaying down the red carpet.

How do celebrities afford such finery? As much business as award show, the Oscars are Hollywood magic – and a fantastic marketing opportunity. The behind-the-scenes hustle of celebrity stylists and brands finding the best representation for their looks makes it possible for celebrities to wear such fantastical artwork with jaw-dropping price tags.

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A post shared by Zendaya (@zendaya)

Do celebrities pay for the gowns?

Rarely. In fact – celebrities and their stylists could even get paid by brands, because of the media frenzy and publicity associated with such events. Uma Thurman first made red carpet history with her unexpected, beautiful Prada dress which transformed Prada to a household name. Since, red carpets have turned into an opulent marketing campaign with the top stars making names for themselves based on their outfits and for the brands they wear.

Celebrities receive sponsored clothing as brand ambassadors

For top celebrities, gowns are often free based on relationships established well before awards season. Some celebrities have brand endorsements, like the celebrated relationship between Dior and Jennifer Lawrence. Their partnership, which was a contract between $15 – 20 million for Lawrence, led to Lawrence wearing Dior at the 2014 and 2016 Oscars.

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A post shared by Jennifer Lawrence (@jenniferlawrence_)

Brands reach out to nominees for collaboration

Nominations are like fashion gold to get your brand featured in the award receiving cameo and at the top headlines of tomorrow’s news. Nominated celebrities will often get approached by brands to create bespoke looks, like Regina King in custom Louis Vuitton at this year’s Oscars (one of the best looks of the night). How do you measure a gown tailor made for you specifically for a famous moment? The answer is priceless.

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A post shared by Regina King (@iamreginaking)

Brands pay celebrities & their stylists to wear their clothing

The Oscars can be so lucrative advertising that stars can be paid to wear Oscar gowns. How about a paycut of $100,000 to $250,000 for wearing a brand? That’s reality for some celebrities with their stylist taking a cut of $30,000 to $50,000 for making the arrangement. With such high profile exposure, the stars are walking advertisements for brands.

Before Attaining A-List Status

Amazing free custom gowns and large checks for whirling in tulle aren’t case for everyone though. For many smaller stars, they have to play Oscar gown musical chairs while the larger stars have dresses reserved for them by brands and showrooms up till the last second. Getting the right gown is a stroke of luck until you have the fame and image to pull and attract the interest of big name brands. 

What happens to gowns when the Oscars are over?

We’re glad you asked. Many stars have to return those well-photographed dresses within days of the award show – which means they have to take good care the whole time to not damage the dress. For those millions of dollars of jewels, loaned jewelry can have a security guard from the brand assigned the celebrity throughout the event.

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Celebrities who self-funded their outfits

Occasionally, like Melissa McCarthy, a star will purchase their own gown. When she attended the Oscars for the first time after the success of her film Bridesmaids, she purchased a gown for herself as designers passed on her as a plus-sized representative of the brand. Leslie Jones is another star who found herself without a dress for her size. Red carpet favorite Christian Sirano eventually stepped in to outfit her right – which led to their incredible, long collaboration, and continued changing of the red carpet standards which are set and shifted by the stars.