The History of the Red Carpet

“For most of us, even a walk down the red carpet is just a dream.”

So said Robert Osborne, primary host for Turner Classic Movies. The red carpet seems reserved for fashion, celebrities, and big parties. Afterall, isn’t it the iconic symbol of the Oscar experience?

But besides those gala events, red carpets are also part of more familiar and “down to earth events” such as school proms, weddings and nightclubs. Somehow, they seem to lend to all occasions an air of wealth and prestige. So even though they can seem like a distant dream, red carpets have been part of most of our lives at some stage.

But what do we really know about its origin? Because we were vastly intrigued by this iconic symbol, we did a bit of research and unravelled the mystery of the origin of red carpet, which goes back to Ancient Greece.

The earliest reference to a red carpet appears in Aeschylus’s Agamemnon, a Greek tragedy written in 458 B.C. In the play, Agamemnon returns from the Trojan War and is welcomed by his vengeful wife Clytemnestra. She has laid down a red carpet, the colour of the gods, to trick her husband into thinking he is getting a warm and regal welcome. Instead, she murders him with a shiv. Not a great debut for the red carpet.

After this first literary reference, renaissance paintings very often display red carpets and rugs. Usually reserved for royal and sacred figures, the carpets in these pictures are patterned but with red as the predominant background colour.

What seems to have really commercialised the practise of rolling out red carpets is the railroad. In 1902, The New York Central launched the 20th Century Limited, an exclusive passenger express between New York and Chicago. At Grand Central Terminal, to direct passengers boarding, they used a red carpet running the length of the platform. This usage is thought to mark the origin of the phrase “red-carpet treatment”.

As far as Hollywood is concerned, it was in 1961 that the red carpet was first introduced at the Academy Award. Back then though, the rug’s redness was still not discernable to at-home viewers because of the black-and-white broadcast.

Today the red carpet is an integral part of the most glamorous events across the world, from the Academy Awards to the Emmys and Grammys. The Oscars pre-shows are dedicated to red carpet interviews and gossip is a favourite part for guests and spectators alike.

Today’s Oscar red carpet has grown to 16,500 square feet and takes two days to install. Not only does it lead guests to the entrances but also helps them feel like royalty.

A carpet of red seems to be what separates the somebodies from the nobodies, cool people from losers or rather just normal people. Yet, can a rug really set such a line?

For most of us a walk on the coveted Hollywood red card red will remain “just a dream”. However, as the inimitable mother daughter duo Joan and Melissa Rivers have said:

“The plot of the [red carpet] is always the same. People get out of a car. They stop and take pictures. They go inside. The question is: How do you make the wheel a little bit different?”

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