In 1997, Jessica Yu won an Academy Award for her short documentary “Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O’Brien.” “What a thrill,” she said in her acceptance speech. “You know you’ve entered new territory when you realize that your outfit cost more than your film.”
For lesser-known Oscar contenders entering the new territory Ms. Yu described, the honor comes saddled with a practical question: How do you get dressed for the Oscars if you’re not a celebrity?
“I called in professionals,” said Pamela Ribon, the writer and creator of “My Year of Dicks,” which is nominated for best animated short film this year. “I just was like, ‘No, I’m not going to be left on my own on this,’” she added, speaking on a video call from Los Angeles.
Ms. Ribon, who is a screenwriter, an author and a television writer, settled on a stylist and a hair and makeup team after asking her agents and friends for recommendations. She gave her stylist, Hannah Katz, reference pictures and a few style directions. “I think I said to her, ‘Never a peplum, I’m not afraid of heels, and I have a big personality, so maybe just be aware of that,’” Ms. Ribon said. She landed on a rented dress by the designer Ella Zahlan for the ceremony.
Sara Gunnarsdóttir, the director of “My Year of Dicks,” started thinking about what she might wear to the ceremony once the film made the Oscars shortlist. “I ended up asking a friend, who is the coolest fashion designer I know, to make me a dress,” Ms. Gunnarsdóttir said, adding that as an Icelandic filmmaker, it felt right to wear an Icelandic design. The designer, Ýr Þrastardóttir, created Ms. Gunnarsdóttir’s ideal look for the occasion.
Like Ms. Gunnarsdóttir, Tom Berkeley and Ross White took a personal approach to their awards season outfits. The young filmmakers used to joke that if they ever ended up on a red carpet, they would enlist their college friend Tilly Edgcumbe as their stylist. So in January, when the two received an Oscar nomination for their live action short film, “An Irish Goodbye,” they knew just who to call.
The Run-Up to the 2023 Oscars
The 95th Academy Awards will be presented on March 12 in Los Angeles.
Not long after, the three friends found themselves in Ms. Edgcumbe’s living room in London, sorting through a library of outfits like they were in a movie shopping montage. “I thought we’d have like two suits each in Tilly’s living room, and we got in and it was like a shop floor, so much to try on,” Mr. White said on a video call.
Ms. Edgcumbe said she had contacted about 140 designers, seeking loaner outfits for the duo. Using skills she’d picked up as a styling assistant, she said, she made an outfit mood board for Mr. Berkeley and Mr. White to review. She fine-tuned her pitch, including a photo of the filmmakers and telling designers and fashion labels that they would be silly not to support these up-and-comers. Ms. Edgcumbe also shopped to maximize their options. Her work paid off. The men said they would wear designer tuxedos on Oscar night: Ted Baker for Mr. White, and Hermès for Mr. Berkeley, both on loan.
“There’s a bit of a kind of underdog spirit about a short film generally, and particularly about this film,” Mr. Berkeley said. “What was really heartening to see was a lot of the designers were really getting behind the story of the film, the story of us as emerging filmmakers.”
For Kartiki Gonsalves, the director of “The Elephant Whisperers,” the styling process was a bit more by-the-book, thanks to the help of Netflix, her film’s distributor.
Ms. Gonsalves said she chose from a host of different stylists that Netflix offered, landing on one who helped find her Oscars dress. “I just wanted something that was representing me as a person. I really wanted to focus on something that I believed in, and I wanted to have that on my dress,” Ms. Gonsalves said on a video call. She plans to wear a gown by the Indian fashion designer Rahul Mishra, featuring wildlife designs as a nod to her film, which is nominated for best documentary short. “I’m bringing my natural world with me to the Oscars on the gown,” she said.
But even with support from a major distributor, getting outfits for the many events of awards season hasn’t been so easy for some.
“This has been an amazing experience,” said Anne Alvergue, who directed the best documentary short nominee “The Martha Mitchell Effect” with Debra McClutchy. “But I will say that finding what to wear has been the most stressful part of it, at least for me.” After making a Pinterest board of reference photos to share with her stylist (also courtesy of Netflix), she decided to go for a dress by the brand The Vampire’s Wife. She personally reached out to the designer, Susie Cave, and asked to borrow the dress.
“Her designs are described as ‘subversive femininity,’ and that kind of is my ethos,” Ms. Alvergue said of Ms. Cave’s work, adding that she was happy to wear a dress by a female designer because their film is “all about female representation, gaslighting and really sort of restoring agency to our main character, Martha Mitchell.”
Ms. McClutchy said she worked with a stylist and rented her awards season outfits from Rent the Runway, trying on many looks and taking the opportunity to experiment with different styles. Her Oscars dress is “old Hollywood, sparkly, glam-y, fun,” she said.
For a moment, Ms. McClutchy said, the two wondered if they had to be “a little more demure” with their outfits because they are documentary short filmmakers. Ultimately, they decided to embrace the excitement. “This is the Oscars,” Ms. McClutchy said, “and we’re having fun with it.”