By Faye Bradley, CNN
(CNN) — Remember when Angelina Jolie’s right leg became a viral sensation?
It was 2012, and the actress arrived at the 84th Academy Awards in a strapless black velvet dress by Atelier Versace. But this was no ordinary gown: It bore a daring thigh slit — one so high that it artfully unveiled just about the entirety of Jolie’s right leg as she posed confidently for the cameras, one hand firmly planted on her hip.
Jolie, then 36, was already a red-carpet fixture. But the moment catapulted her into the viral stratosphere, sparking media fanfare, a string of memes and even social media accounts dedicated entirely to “the right leg.”
It wasn’t just her thigh that stole the spotlight that evening, though. Amid the sea of pristine white gowns worn by fellow attendees like Gwyneth Paltrow and Milla Jovovich, Jolie stood out in black. It was a striking departure from the icy palette that prevailed at that year’s Oscars — ironic, given that she’d helped spark the trend by wearing a sumptuous satin white satin Versace creation to the Golden Globes a month earlier.
In the room, Jolie’s on-stage leg reveal — while presenting the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay — was well-received, prompting imitations by the award’s winners Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (for “The Descendants”). Rash told reporters backstage that it was not a mockery but a “loving tribute.”
Jolie’s Oscars gown was praised widely in the fashion press, with The New Yorker’s Judith Thurman crowning her as the evening’s “best-dressed” for baring her “to die for” legs and Harper’s Bazaar’s Joyann King commending how the actress “embraced her sultry side.” Vogue’s late editor-at-large André Leon Talley, meanwhile, celebrated how she made black velvet “super-sexy with a huge slash, totally eighties Versace style.”
But not all critics were on board.
The leggy look was described as “boring” in TIME magazine, which gave a score of “right leg: 1, black dress: 0.” An opinion piece published in Philadelphia Magazine described Jolie’s posing as “comical and pathetic,” saying she appeared “aloof, arrogant and snotty.” Her slender leg even sparked some uncomfortable and heated debated over the star’s weight among tabloids and TV pundits, with some observers suggesting that she appeared frail. (Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly described her, on air, as “emaciated.”)
As for the court of public opinion? Views were also mixed. A parody Twitter account called @AngiesRightLeg, which has since been deleted, amassed over 34,000 followers in two days, according to Reuters, with posts including “Look at the leg!” and “You have to admit I’m one hell of a leg.” A Glamour magazine survey meanwhile found that around three-quarters of readers were “not into” Jolie’s “pose-y stance.”
Jolie later said she hadn’t taken notice of the hype. “I heard something, but I didn’t pay any attention. It’s as simple as being a woman picking a dress you like and having a night, and not really thinking about anything else,” she told The Huffington Post the next month.
Some years later, at the premiere of 2019’s “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” Jolie added that the dress had been chosen with comfort in mind. “I think when you feel comfortable, when you feel yourself — which is very much the theme of the film, and we know this in life — you embrace it,” she told Extra on the red carpet.
The actress nonetheless managed to foreshadow a fall trend, with labels including Balmain, Azzaro and Jean Paul Gaultier bringing thigh-high slits to their runways less than a month after the Oscars. Other stars, from Chrissy Teigen and Beyoncé to Jennifer Hudson and Nicole Scherzinger, also carried the mantle on that year’s red carpets — a proliferation of exposed thighs that The New York Times dubbed “The Angelina Effect” (a term later reappropriated to describe the spike in women with high risk of breast cancer seeking pre-emptive double mastectomies, a procedure Jolie underwent in 2013).
In March of this year, Donatella Versace, the designer behind the dress, fondly reflected on her creation while recounting her favorite Oscars looks in The Wall Street Journal. “Sometimes you don’t know which dress is the best,” she said, “but when you see someone wearing the dress it can become fantastic.”
Clearly, Angie was onto something and, as always, put her best foot — or leg — forward.
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