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These Oscar nominees have already won the red carpet

- January 09:Emma Stone, on the red carpet at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Board of Governors,
-Emma Stone, here at the recent Governors Awards, always delights on the red carpet. (Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

There are two contests for female actors in the running for the lead actress Academy Award. One is for their acting skills and the other is, unofficially, for how well they convey themselves and their character through multiple red-carpet appearances. The publicity tours offer a priceless opportunity to establish a public image (vital for relative newcomers like Lily Gladstone) or polish an established persona worthy of wearing custom couture.

Dressing celebrities for award shows and galas has become such a valuable piece of high fashion’s marketing machine that some designers are perhaps better known just for their red-carpet fashion (looking at you, Schiaparelli’s Daniel Roseberry).

Yet with the nearly six months of combined actors' and writers' strikes, there were scant promotional activities last year, depriving actors of opportunities to build their fashion following and glamour quotient. But the final days before the Oscar nominations saw the front runners back in the public eye, many going for bold statements at other awards shows and in other appearances.

Here’s a look at the Oscar nominees for lead actress and what to expect during the 96th Academy Awards, with its red carpet set for 4 p.m. on March 10 at the Dolby Theatre at Ovation Hollywood.

Two images of Annette Bening. In one she wears a black gown, in the other a blazer and slacks.
Annette Bening prefers simple styles over flash. (John Phillips/Getty Images for B)

Annette Bening

Bening may play complex characters such as Diana Nyad (“Nyad”) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (“The Report”) on film, but on the red carpet, the Oscar veteran with four nominations personifies a confident woman sure of her style. For decades, Bening has favored tailored clothing such as a blazer that she’ll pair with a crisp white blouse, ankle-length skirt or sleek trousers. Her classic, easy style often consists of monochromatic suits, muted patterns, the occasional scarf and simple eyewear. She keeps her hair simple and a bit uncontrolled, which contributes to a sense of self-assuredness. On tour in support of “Nyad,” Bening showed a trait she shares with her real-life character — a preference for clothing that aids movement and that lets the person, not the fashion, do the talking.

Two images of Lily Gladstone. In one she wears a white gown, in the other a black dress with beaded shawl and scuffed boots.
Lily Gladstone often adds touches of her Native American heritage to her outfits. (Kevin Mazur/Getty Images; Arturo)

Lily Gladstone

Lily Gladstone is not just gaining attention for her breakout performance as Mollie Burkhart in “Killers of the Flower Moon” but also turning heads with her individualistic style. Born on Montana’s Blackfeet Indian Reservation, Gladstone has worn tennis shoes, scuffed boots and fur-trimmed moccasins for publicity appearances, often with another accessory or pattern that recalls her Siksikaitsitapi and Nez Perce heritage. She’s worn long, beaded earrings or necklaces, fringed shawls and tunics appliqued with Native symbols. With couture now at her disposal, Gladstone is smartly illustrating with successive appearances how she can offer glamour in addition to authenticity (take note of the Valentino ensemble she wore at the Golden Globes). Yet every inclusion of a Native symbol, style or ceremonial garment helps solidify awareness of Native Americans, their artwork and the newest bright light in Hollywood.

Two images of Sandra Huller. In one, she wears a sparkly mermaid gown, in the other wide flared pants.
Sandra Hueller embraces innovative style. (Stephane Cardinale/Corbis via Ge)

Sandra Hüller

The German actor had a high-profile 2023 with roles in two buzzy films, playing a Nazi’s wife in “The Zone of Interest” and a writer and possible murderer in “Anatomy of a Fall.” Perhaps owing to the serious characters she portrays, Sandra Hüller has recently favored unfussy silhouettes rendered in rich fabrics. She also confidently carries unusual cuts, such as trousers with flaring legs, a trait that could help her become a high-fashion darling. Her embrace of innovative style recalls that of another European actor with a bent for creative couture, Tilda Swinton. Yet with the attention her recent performances are garnering, it is entirely possible Hüller could be gracing as many magazine editorials as red carpets.

Two images of Carey Mulligan. In one she wears a skirt and bustier, in the other a blazer and baggy trousers.
Carey Mulligan is a serious contender who should have every couture house at her fingertips. (Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic v)

Carey Mulligan

British actor Carey Mulligan’s soft eyes and fair complexion are typical of a kind of demure gamine who gets typecast as an underestimated heroine. However, offscreen, she’s frequently shaken off the image with bold fashion statements, routinely wowing at the Met Gala and the Academy Awards red carpet with dazzling couture from Valentino, Roland Mouret and Celine. However, her “Maestro” publicity wardrobe has veered from unflattering, dark, masculine blazers and baggy trousers to the best of high fashion, such as a Balmain skirt and bustier, plucked from the runway. With two prior lead actress nominations, Mulligan is a serious contender who should have every couture house at her fingertips and in her closet.

Two images of Emma Stone. In one she's in blazer and pants, in the other, a gown that looks like it bubbled up from the sea
Emma Stone is adept at theming her style to her films, offering intriguing possibilities for this year's red carpet. (Taylor Hill/FilmMagic via Getty )

Emma Stone

With two prior Academy Award nominations and a statuette for “La La Land,” Emma Stone still manages to surprise audiences with her acting skills — and her personal style. The “Poor Things” actor has established relationships with fashion houses such as Louis Vuitton, which keep her in cutting-edge couture that she wears convincingly. She’s also adept at themed dressing that winks at her characters or films — a practice that, given the biomorphic, fantasy look of “Poor Things,” offers intriguing possibilities for this year’s red carpet. The looks she’s debuted in the post-strike awards tour are promising, such as a pale yellow Louis Vuitton gown that looks like it bubbled up from the sea and into a sleek dress, something that could have come from Dr. Godwin Baxter’s bizarre laboratory.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.