Oscar Countdown: A Brief History of the Red Carpet

The “Red Carpet” has become a staple of pop culture. It makes an appearance at just about every special event, most notably The Academy Awards. At the Oscars, the Red Carpet has become an event unto itself, following some of the most famous celebrities and film nominees as they emerge from their limos and step into the Dolby Theatre. Though the history of the Red Carpet can be traced back to Ancient Greece, it took some time for the Red Carpet to become a pop culture staple. Learn more about its unique history below.

Oscar Countdown: A Brief History of the Red Carpet

A Reference in Ancient Greece

One of the most famous references to the Red Carpet is found in one of the most famous Greek tragedies. It occurs in the final act of the play Agamemnon by Aeschylus. It dramatizes the return of the Mycenaean King from the Trojan War. In the climactic scene, Agamemnon’s wife, who is plotting to murder him, greets him at his chariot having lined his path to the palace with fine robes. He is hesitant to walk on such luxury, stating:

“Strew not this [purple] that shall make each step an arrogance; such pomp beseems the gods.”

Fearful of offending the gods with such a luxurious statement, Agamemnon is eventually convinced by his wife, Clytemnestra. In his bare feet, he walks the elegant path and enters the palace, to his tragic demise.

Royalty on the “Red Carpet”

Agamemnon’s fateful Red Carpet Moment was written by Aeschylus around 458 B.C. It’s an early example of what was already or eventually became a royal trend. Stepping on the ground was for the common man of ancient and medieval times. Lavish carpets or elegant walkways were a symbol of wealth, not to mention a practical way to protect expensive fabrics and pricey outerwear such as shoes from mud and filth typically thrown out on the streets in centuries past. Most famously, Sir Walter Raleigh, the English explorer credited with paving the way for some major British colonies, is rumored to have thrown his cloak on the earth over a puddle for Queen Elizabeth I–and most paintings of this legend depicted Raleigh’s cloak as a luxurious red.

20th Century Limited Pulled By Commodore Vanderbilt 1935

20th Century Limited in 1935 (Photo: CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The “Red Carpet Treatment”

The Red Carpet didn’t start to take shape as we know it until the 20th century. Rail travel was a competitive industry in America before WWII. The competition, specifically between New York Central’s “20th Century Limited” steam engine and Pennsylvania Railroad’s “Broadway Limited” on the New York-to-Chicago route eventually made its way out of the luxurious amenities inside the rail cars and onto the path that welcomed passengers. A plush red carpet was spread from the engine to the observation car. It became a symbol for the many luxuries that were common on these overnight trips, which essentially ran as a bed and breakfast for wealthy passengers the night before they embarked on their scenic trip from New York City to Chicago.

The Academy Awards

Purple may be the color of royalty, but it is red, not purple, that paves the walkway to the Academy Awards. The first time the Red Carpet was actually set down to welcome celebrities to the event was in 1961. Part of the reason why the carpet color was chosen to be red was the simple idea that the striking color would help define the path into the theatre. It also might have been as an imitation or a tribute to the famous Hollywood promoter and owner of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (which used to host the Oscars). At what’s accepted as Hollywood’s first premier in 1922, Sid Grauman paved a path for the stars of Robin Hood with a red carpet.

The Academy Awards Red Carpet 1988

The Oscars, Red Carpet, 1988 (Photo: Alan Light, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The Rise of Red Carpet Fashion

Today, the Red Carpet is a big event in the world of fashion. In some cases it overshadows the show itself. Ever since Barbra Streisand changed the game with her pantsuit at the 1969 Academy Awards, celebrities have been trying to steal the show with what they wear. This attention to fashion basically split the show in two, making the Red Carpet an equally important event featuring hours of live footage, interviews with the nominees and plenty of commentary. Get ready for the show with these greatest moments in Oscar history.


The Red Carpet changed Hollywood’s biggest awards show forever. Don’t forget to make your own fashion statement with affordable apparel, jewelry and accessories, available every day at The Lakeside Collection.