Perhaps because red carpet dresses look like such an effort to put on, the jumpsuit seems easier, liberating even—seems because it takes an effort and bravery all of its own.
It was not the only revolutionary red carpet move: The ever-brilliant Susan Sarandon turned up in both fantastically attitude-y shades and flats, arguably an even more feminist move than starring in Thelma and Louise.
Beckham’s was a black-and-white bustier top and beautifully tailored black trousers from her 2016 autumn/winter collection—but still managed to walk off with all the fashion plaudits that may have been heading the way of more traditionally be-gowned stars, like Anna Kendrick, Jessica Chastain, Bella Hadid, Kirsten Dunst, and Naomi Watts, who pre-red carpet had stepped out in a navy jumpsuit during the day.
All these women are wearing beautiful dresses, but the trouser suit’s red carpet ascendancy throws down a welcome and refreshing challenge to the traditional rules of glittering, luxe femininity that traditionally prevail at film premieres.
Indeed, on the opening day in Cannes, it was the tale of two jumpsuits, as Blake Lively wore a siren red one, neatly demonstrating just how versatile this article of clothing can be.
Where Beckham’s was sleek and sexy, and the trousers tapered and sharp, Lively’s was a siren-red flounce of drama—if one was mannish and sleek, the other was more frilly and femme, reminding us that the jumpsuit is one of the most versatile fashion uniforms around.
The sightings of the jumpsuit at Cannes follow Ivanka Trump stepping out in one for the Met Gala. Diana Ross wore one—magnificently, with extra shimmer—at a film premiere in 2014. Rachel Weisz wore a simple black Narciso Rodriguez jumpsuit at Cannes last year.
The jumpsuit has long grown up from its ’70s unisex heyday. First it went glam and disco, then it went boardroom, and then it become a clean page in the fashion sketchbook for designers to play as fast and loose as they cared to. It can be conservative, daring, fun, sexy, or sharp and tailored. It can be dressed up or down, and yet it always surprises—in Beckham and Ross’s cases, in the best way.
As once surveyed by Style Bistro, it can be stripy as worn by Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, diaphanous as worn by Vanessa Hudgens, and pure, wonderful punk as worn by Kristen Stewart at the Met Gala in 2013.
Can you get jumpsuits wrong? Both Sophie Marceau and Tilda Swinton were harshly judged for their differing efforts at Cannes in years gone by, but both women are fashion experimenters. The criticism leveled at them is all too familiar for anyone of a differing tribe to the skin and sequins of the mainstream.
Jumpsuit wearers are unlikely to be scared off by any negative headlines—just like Sarandon in flats, they may even be harbingers of a welcome red carpet rebellion.