origins of the red carpet

Illustration by Leilani Biere
Illustration by Leilani Biere

To know the red carpet is to know fashion. 

The concept of the red carpet was first written about in 458 B.C. in a Greek play about a King returning home after the war. In an interview with TIME, Jeanne Gutierrez from the New York Historical Society said that in ancient Grecian times, red was the color for the gods, and as a mortal he feared the repercussions of stepping on the crimson carpet. 

Red seems to have the same impression on society back then as it does now. It has always represented power and royalty, and today it also represents fashion. For the New York Limited, a train that ran nightly from New York to Chicago, rolling out the red carpet meant the best treatment possible for its passengers. It can even be seen in a vintage Time Magazine being called  “The Magic Carpet.” It was because of this the phrase “red carpet treatment” was coined. 

Photo by Alan Light via Flickr

Now, there seems to be red-carpet events around every corner. Some red carpets are movie premieres, but most appear under the feet of celebrities at awards shows like the Oscars, Grammys, Emmys and Golden Globes. You can’t forget all the music awards shows as well as the choice awards. Even events with non-red carpets have been deemed red carpet events – think the Met Gala and Kids’ Choice Awards, which feature white and orange carpets. Most of these award shows happen annually and can date back to the mid 1900s, meaning there have been over 350 red carpet events and counting. 

The first actual red-carpet event is rumored to be at the 1922 premiere of “Robin Hood” in Hollywood, California. The Academy Awards, also known as the Oscars, took on the red-carpet tradition in 1961. However, due to the lack of color television at the time, it wasn’t until a few years later in 1964 that at-home audiences could see the red color of the carpet. 

During the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, the red carpet looks could be described as casual to say the least.  According to Vanity Fair, the general aesthetic was for stars to show their personality off screen and wear whatever they wanted. In the ‘90s, anything went. This includes crop tops with maxi skirts, sweatshirts tied around the waist and feather cuffs and collars. Tyra Banks even wore Adidas slides on the red carpet for the “Contact” movie premiere in 1997.

Red carpets today can be seen as one of the biggest platforms for fashion. They are the perfect place for celebrities and stars to make statements, show off designer connections and flaunt what they’ve got.

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