In the historic and noble tradition of stagecraft it has long been understood that you can make people virtually disappear on stage by dressing them from head to toe in black.
Many are the mime acts and puppet troupes that have made this their signature technique, dazzling audiences by making things appear to move magically on stage. The all-black get up is also used by stage hands to minimise the intrusion of them moving furniture and props around on stage between scenes.
Here Vanessa Hudgens is showing how the same trick can be used on the red carpet.
Swamped by a huge black wrap dress, she’s like the Cheshire Cat – a grinning face, not apparently attached to a body. Of course, it didn’t help matters that this particular red carpet was actually black, but even on the normal scarlet variety this ponderous black frock would have made her hard to get a fix on. Not ideal for a film star.
Were she a woman of more generous proportions, this choice of artful camouflage might be understandable – curvy Kirstie Alley looked pretty good(if a little dishevelled in the hair area) in black at the same event (the LA premiere of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: On Strange Tides’).
But High School Musical’s Hudgens is a tiny slip of a girl drowning inside this giant sea monster of a dress. Even the coquettish flash of toffee-coloured thigh, doesn’t alleviate the disaster of the upper half of it. She could have been storing a few ferrets in those voluminous sleeves.
Adding to the optical illusion weirdness, while perfectly on-trend (everyone seemed to be wearing them at the Royal wedding…) her flesh-coloured ultra-platform shoes blend seamlessly into her legs, just as the dress blends into her hair. She appears to have hooves.
Half close your eyes and she looks like some kind of alien mini-monk, that could have featured in a Star Wars prequel. Glamour Yoda you are.
An obi (with or without the Wan Kinobi ha ha ha) style belt in bright colours, lots of beads, bling brooches and cuffs could all have jazzed it up, but really, it’s just too much droopy dark fabric beneath too much droopy dark hair.
Alley’s dress, by contrast, although also unrelieved black (apart from a matt/satin texture contrast) was a one-shoulder number, revealing a crucial shot of flesh near the head, to anchor her in the onlooker’s gaze, set off all the better by her long blonde hair.
And it’s not just blondes who can successfully work the flattering lines of full-length black, while remaining visible to the naked eye. On the same carpet of fame, most brunette of stars and very recent new mother, Penelope Cruz, dazzled in a black fishtail dress.
This one worked because it had a most flattering off-the-shoulder neckline and bare arms – crucial upper-body flesh revealed – and was sumptuously ornate, with embroidered brocade patterns down the dress and fabulous floaty feathers round the neckline and hem.
But the clinching detail which made Cruz the belle of the black carpet that night, was that she worked her long black dress with a high-ponytail up hairdo, exposing maximum elegant neck.
A blingtastic pair of dangling diamond earrings and an equally dazzling bracelet round one wrist and you had the perfect premiere look. Chic, discreet – and unmissable.
My new book, Style Notes, a final collection of the columns I used to do for that magazine – oh, what was its name again? oh yes Good Weekend – is out now.