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“Who are you wearing?”

It’s probably the single most asked question on the red carpet — at least where Hollywood’s women are concerned. Their male counterparts, most in fairly classic tuxedos, don’t have to put up with such superficial queries. In fact, this sexist, outdated and — let’s face it — idiotic practice has sparked everything from sarcasm to outrage, and multiple hashtags, including Amy Poehler’s #SmartGirlsAsk, Reese Witherspoon’s #AskHerMore, and my favorite #AskBetterQuestions.

Oscar-winner Sandra Bullock sums it up this way, “Watch, we’re going to walk down the red carpet, I’m going to be asked about my dress and my hair while the man standing next to me will be asked about his performance and political issues.”

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An industry that doesn’t celebrate its women enough as it is, chooses to reduce the few who are honored each year to living mannequins. But, there’s business behind it all. Aside from insulting the intelligence and talent of the wearer, the right dress (on the right body) can earn its designer international acclaim and tremendous sales growth. That’s why A-list actresses, their managers and stylists are wooed by couture houses.

Some high-profile celebrities are actually paid to wear certain gowns and jewels. Two years ago, there was a bidding war between two labels for Jennifer Lawrence’s dress. Gwyneth Paltrow allegedly earned $1 million for wearing a diamond cuff by Anna Hu. And, in 2011, when Anne Hathaway co-hosted the Oscars, she reportedly received $750,000 to wear jewelry from Tiffany & Co. (Someone should really let Tiffany’s know that I’d wear them for free.)

Designer gowns and gemstones are just the beginning. Each Academy Award nominee in the major categories receives a V.I.P. gift bag, whether they take home a statuette or not. The bags are put together by a promotional firm called “Distinctive Assets,” and the Academy is quick to point out that they are in no way “officially” authorized by the show itself. A lawsuit has been filed, citing trademark infringement and misleading the public.

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Nevertheless, the value of this year’s bag is purported to be $236,000, up 40% from last year’s record $160,000, and its contents are as luxurious, self-indulgent and . . . um . . . “creative” as one might imagine. They range from a $6 tube of Chapstick to a $54,000 private walking tour of Japan. For nominees with a sweet tooth, the bag includes $300 worth of personalized M&Ms, Chocolatines Drunken Fig Cake Bites, Harriet’s Cheesecakes and Signature Vodka. There are training sessions with Alexis Seletzky and Jay Cardiello; skin and haircare products; expense-paid trips to spas and grand hotels in the U.S. and Italy; and a year’s worth of Audi luxury car rentals. Read More »

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