In one of my first jobs out of college, my 60-something-year-old boss would routinely ask me how we could make his small company “go viral.” At the time I found this endearing and amusing, not only because he was positing it as a viable business goal, but also because I knew it wasn’t necessarily something you could do on purpose. While that’s still true now, as our internet fluency has improved over the last decade, so too has our understanding of how “going viral” can also sometimes be distilled into a science.
Viral red carpet outfits are an apt illustration of this new state of affairs. During the 2010s, increasingly, each red carpet seemed to be stocked with at least a few ensembles devised for the express purpose of sparking internet chatter (memes, headlines, tweets, et al.).
So to commemorate the end of the red carpet era that gave birth to this particular brand of fashion strategy, we’re counting down 10 of the most viral red carpet moments, one from each of the past 10 years.
2010: The Year We Met the Meat Dress
You could easily argue that Lady Gaga was one of the foremothers of the 2010s’ viral outfits. Her infamous “meat dress,” which she wore to the MTV Music Video Awards in 2010, is one of the decade’s first memorable instances of a major internet uproar over a red carpet ensemble. In addition to sparking ire from animal rights activists the outfit–made entirely of raw beef–was named one of the top fashion statements of 2010 by Time. It’s now on display at the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame after being preserved as jerky by some enterprising taxidermists.
2011: Nicki Minaj’s Next-Level Monochrome
Nicki Minaj’s extremely memorably full-leopard look at the 2011 Grammys is proof of a truth I’ve turned to numerous times when my creative juices aren’t feeling particularly flow-y but I still need my clothes to speak in exclamation points: monochrome is the most straightforward secret sauce when it comes to making a statement. You’re basically guaranteed to attract an eyeball or two, though Nicki obviously attracted a lot more than that considering her monochrome outfit was televised across the nation.
2012: The Leg Pop That Swept the Internet
Ah, the leg pop tweeted ’round the world–facilitated by a black Versace dress with a slit that wouldn’t quit. Shortly after Angelina Jolie’s red carpet arrival in said dress, a Twitter account with the handle @AngiesRightLeg was launched, garnering more than 12,000 followers within hours. That was only the beginning. The leg pop turned out to be ripe for photoshop fodder, sparking a plethora of memes on Tumblr wherein Jolie’s leg was inserted into everything from the Statue of Liberty to the moon landing. This is a prime example of how a twist of appendage-driven fate can spin even the simplest of black gowns into the viral vortex.
2013: Kim Kardashian’s Tip-to-Toe Floral Extravaganza
Kim Kardashian was already under a pretttttttyyyy fluorescent spotlight before the 2013 Met Gala thanks to her pregnancy with a baby we now know as one North West, who at the time was only a month away from landing earth-side. Thus, it was no surprise that her red carpet look went viral within a nanosecond of its arrival at the event, spurred by the fact that the head-to-toe floral pattern (gloves included) was fertile ground for couch fabric comparisons and Garden State wallpaper camouflage references.
2014: Arguably the Most Famous Red-Carpet Hat of All Time
Pharrell’s ludicrously tall vintage Vivienne Westwood hat inspired a parody Twitter account that still maintains 14,000 followers to this day. Many social media commenters observed that it looked suspiciously similar to the hat in Arby’s logo, prompting the fast food chain to Tweet, “Hey @Pharrell, can we have our hat back?” It was thus a true full-circle moment when Arby’s purchased it in a charity auction for $44,100 later that year.
2015: Rihanna Cracking Eggs at the Met Gala
Rihanna’s GIGANTIC yellow couture look by Chinese designer Guo Pei at the 2015 Met Gala was so meme-able that even I, an infant internet user, couldn’t resist taking a whack at it. In addition to its intrinsically show-stopping, can’t-look-away aesthetic, her dramatic dress and cape also proved to be a field day waiting to happen for various omelette, pizza, and big bird jokes.
2016: Beyoncé’s Post-Lemonade Latex Look
Beyoncé attended the 2016 Met Gala red carpet just days after dropping her album Lemonade, so when she arrived wearing a skin-tight latex gown–which she teased on Instagram beforehand–it was basically guaranteed to accrue viral internet fame. Naturally it was the subject of a veritable meme extravaganza, my favorite drawing a comparison to St. Ives Apricot Scrub, and much private curiosity on my part about how she somehow managed not to look even a little bit sweaty.
2017: Susan Sarandon and Her Sunnies
Susan Sarandon wore a delightfully low-cut, fitted green velvet gown to opening night of the Cannes Film Festival in 2017, sparking headlines like “Susan Sarandon Just Proved Why 70 Is the New 20” and “Susan Sarandon’s Boobs Are the Real Stars at Cannes.” It didn’t hurt that, in addition to defying the so-called “rules” of age-appropriate dressing with fantastic aplomb, Sarandon accessorized her dress with a pair of glamorous, oversized sunglasses and just looked…well…cool. A rarely applicable descriptor in the broader world of red carpet style.
2018: The Fuchsia Dress on Everyone’s Instagram Feed
You know when you’ve been staring into the sun for a beat longer than you probably should and when you blink afterwards, you can see bright spots under your eyelids? That’s basically what happened when the internet witnessed Tracee Ellis Ross wearing a voluminous hot pink Valentino Couture gown at the Emmys in 2018. The enthusiasm for her outfit was boundless, from commentary on how her relationship with stylist Karla Welch was the “most powerful celebrity/stylist alliance out there at the moment” to tongue-in-cheek 911 reports.
2019: Billy Porter’s Legendary Tuxedo Gown
Over the past year, Billy Porter has become a bonafide red carpet legend with his penchant for convention-defying Moments with a capital “M,” experimenting with gender norms and red carpet expectations in equal measure. Though he had many viral looks in 2019, his hybrid tuxedo gown at the Oscars–that took up space literally and figuratively–seemed to solidify his reputation as a notable figure to watch, in multiple respects.
What viral red carpet outfits from the past decade stick out in your memory like sparkly thumbs?
Photos via Getty Images.