billy porter 2019 oscars
photo: Fraer Harrison/Getty Images

Gender norms, step aside.

Actor Billy Porter broke the internet thanks to his decidedly gender-bending ensemble for the 2019 Oscars! Porter, who stars in the Pose series on FX, decided that the star-studded evening called for drama, volume, and texture, so he opted for a giant velvet tuxedo ballgown that stole the entire show. 

The gown was not only a stunning garment that was expertly designed, but also Porter's way of living his truth and embracing his identity as a black man in the LGBTQ+ community. Porter seemed to float across the red carpet, and the internet is officially obsessed with both his boldness and glamour.

"When you come to the Oscars, you must dress up," Porter captioned a photo of his now-viral dress on Instagram.

Designed by Christian Siriano, Porter's gown is made of black silk and velvet, begins as a tuxedo, and trails down into a voluminous ball gown skirt. Porter and his stylist, Sam Ratelle, specifically sought out Christian Siriano to bring their vision for a statement-making ball gown come to life, according to The Hollywood Reporter

It's no secret that Siriano has become the go-to designer for the different body and beauty types that do not suit standard European beauty standards, and that's exactly why Porter thought Siriano was the best choice for the job. 

Porter didn't just serve looks on the red carpet. The Tony-winning actor also hosted the red carpet in a different iteration of the Siriano gown that had wide-legged pants.

"Having the time of my life at the 91st @theacademy Awards hosting the @abcnetwork red carpet pre-show with these beauties @mariamenounos @ashleygraham and @elainewelteroth," he shared on Instagram.

Not only did he proudly hit the red carpet in his fancy velvet pants and gown, but he also showed up with his husband on his arm. 

There really aren't eloquent-enough words to describe what it means to see Porter show up to the Oscars donning not one but TWO gender-bending ensembles with his partner by his side, snapping photos, and having the "time of his life" WHILE getting paid to be there. 

As simple as it may seem to some, Porter showed such a well-rounded view of what life can and should be like for people of all genders and sexual orientations within and outside the Hollywood space.

The designs are not to be watered down as a moment for pure attention seeking; they were meant to start a healthy conversation, according to Porter and Siriano. 

"So in the room, we were kind of like, ‘OK, let's play with this idea that [the look] can be masculine and feminine,' " Siriano told The Hollywood Reporter. "This is our version of a tuxedo, because he's wearing a kind of tuxedo jacket over a gown. It’s like, ‘What is menswear? What is women’s?’ People should be able to wear whatever they want.”


Free isn't even the word. Billy Porter is liberated and liberating. Period. 

"I didn't come to play. I came to slay. I came to serve. I came to slay," the Pose star shared on social media. Seeing someone so carefree makes us want to follow suit, er, tuxedo gown.

Porter also revealed to The Hollywood Reporter that he wore the velvet ballgown to take his own "power back" from the tougher early years in his career.

"I wanted to take my power back from when I was silent in the '90s about my sexuality and trying to be an R&B recording artist,” he told The Hollywood Reporter

“You know, just the silencing of my spirit, of my humanity almost took me out of here. And one of my biggest things was finally embracing my feminine side in public and in my career, vis-a-vis Kinky Boots. And then you move on to Pose, and these transgender girls teach me what courage is, what authenticity is in the deepest way — more than I have ever seen in my life."

Porter is referring to his time playing the original Lola character from the Broadway musical Kinky Boots.

The groundbreaking musical, for those of you who don't know, revolves around a British man who makes shoes for drag queen performers to save his family's shoemaking business. The shoemaker is inspired by Porter's character, who teaches everyone around him the importance of love and acceptance.

Porter credits this role with inspiring him to dress more freely despite the homophobic and racist oppression he experienced on a regular basis.

"I grew up loving fashion, but there was a limit to the ways in which I could express myself. When you’re black and you’re gay, one’s masculinity is in question," he shared with Vogue. 

"I dealt with a lot of homophobia in relation to my clothing choices. [Even] when I had my first working contract at A&M Records, I was silent for a long time. I was trying to fit into what other people felt I should look like. When I landed a role in Kinky Boots, the experience really grounded me in a way that was so unexpected. Putting on those heels made me feel the most masculine I’ve ever felt in my life. It was empowering to let that part of myself free."

His willingness to stand in his truth as a black gay man in a ball gown on a high-profile red carpet inspired legions of fans on Twitter.

"I wish I had a Billy Porter when I was a kid. You don't need to want to wear a dress to be inspired by someone who is unafraid to be themselves," esteemed writer Yashar Ali wrote on Twitter. Thanks to Porter, imagine how many young gay and black children do have that role model.

There was also an outpouring of support and excitement from many of Porter's theater and film peers.

"Audra McDonald’s time of death: Billy Porter O’ Clock," wrote the actress Audra McDonald.

Porter's Instagram comments were full of his peers who couldn't contain their excitement over his unforgettable ball gown. 

Janelle Monáe, Tess Holliday, La La Anthony, and so many more celebrities gushed in his comments section, leaving his mentions in complete shambles. 

Fans also didn't miss the homage paid to a founder of the House of Extravaganza in the ballroom scene.

"Pose star Billy Porter pays homage to ballroom icon, the Legendary Grandfather Hector Xtravaganza of the House of Xtravaganza, on Academy Awards Red Carpet," a fan wrote on Twitter with a side-by-side comparison. 

Porter retweeted this post, confirming the tribute. 

Also, FYI, when it comes to making a red-carpet splash, Porter is true to the game. 

This is Your Highness in a suit and cape at the 2019 Golden Globe Awards. The suit is a custom couture design by Randi Rahm. 

He also wore a satin suit with a trailing oversize satin bow at the hip for the 24th Annual Critics Choice Awards in January. 

This is designed by the indie brand Rinat Brodach.

Moral of the story? Serve the look how you want to serve just the way you want to serve it. Always. 

Whether you're working with a red carpet, a catwalk, or a sidewalk — Porter proves you don't need anyone's permission to be your authentic self. Do what makes you happy. The people will have to either be slain, or they'll get over it and move out of the way.

*hair flip*