Just two (belated) fashion icons talking shop.
Every time Sarah Paulson steps onto a red carpet, the fashion world is in for a treat. The Ratched actress embraces drama in all forms, opting for colorful, embellished, and structured gowns from designers like Prada, Moschino, Valentino, and Dior. While her looks could easily steal the spotlight, it’s Paulson’s confidence in them that shines through. She wears the clothes; they never wear her. That’s the sign of a true style icon, and that’s precisely what she is to Schmigadoon! star Arianna DeBose.
The actress – who’s on a career high herself, following up her breakout role in The Prom with the highly-anticipated West Side Story later this year – is a huge fan of Paulson’s, both onscreen and off. So for InStyle‘s July Style Crush feature, we connected the pair to chat all things fashion, from the power of self-expression and fantasy to the look that has Paulson (who portrays the late Linda Tripp in FX’s upcoming limited series Impeachment: American Crime Story) feeling like she’s “back in the womb.” Read their full chat, below.
Ariana DeBose: Sarah, you use fashion to express yourself in such a dynamic way. It’s like this beautiful tool that’s allowed you to display the different facets that make up the marvelous Lady Sarah P. I’m in a moment of transition in my life where my style is changing as we speak, and sometimes I don’t feel like I even have a sense of style.
Sarah Paulson: Why would you ever think that? Did somebody tell you that in high school? Because that is not true. You’re a walking sense of style! I remember meeting you backstage at Hamilton and writing to you on Instagram afterward about how revelatory you are as a performer. Your role in The Prom was so moving, and I cannot wait to see you in West Side Story and every f-ing thing you ever do. I just want to be in a room with you and celebrate you properly.
AD: That means the world to me. I guess I just feel like a late-bloomer, fashion-wise. I’m like Andy Sachs from The Devil Wears Prada, saying all the wrong things at all the wrong times. [laughs]
SP: It’s funny because I, too, never felt like I had a sense of style. I knew what I liked and gravitated toward, but a lot of it felt like osmosis. I learned how to trust my instincts from my best friend, Amanda Peet. We both grew up in New York, and she had the coolest clothes. But looking back at old pictures of myself on the red carpet, it’s clear that I was painfully uncomfortable. I’ve had time to figure things out, and I’ve had help. I work with stylist Karla Welch, who is the baddest bitch in the game and pushes me just enough. So basically, I have no identity. I stole it from Amanda Peet and Karla Welch. [laughs]
AD: I’ve been working with the stylist team Zadrian and Sarah right now, which has been great. My tastes are different from day to day-it’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind!-so they help me figure out what to wear. When I look at older photos of myself, I see discomfort and vulnerability. I can’t believe how different I look and feel now. But your evolution inspires me to dive deeper into new fashion realms. That Moschino look at the 2019 Met Gala was everything. So was the Prada gown with flames for the London première of Glass.
SP: I’ve had very magical moments in Prada, to the point where it feels like a delicious dream. It’s hard to believe I’ve encased my body in such works of art. Some people cast aspersions on fashion as if it’s a frivolous waste of time when, in fact, it’s an opportunity for self-expression. And coming off the sweatpants year, being pulled back into the aspirational fantasy world of fashion is quite alluring right now.
AD: It really is. Besides Prada, what designers do you love? Michael Kors is my king; the lines of his pieces work for my body.
SP: Michael Kors makes incredible knits, and I’ve had a long love affair with Marc Jacobs. It scared the shit out of me to spend a lot on anything when I was first working in theater. People used to say, “But it’s an investment.” And I was like, “What are you talking about? That pays my rent. That’s all my food.”
SP: But once I had a few dollars to my name I started buying Marc by Marc Jacobs jeans. More recently I discovered that the biggest splurge a person could ever make is a cashmere sweater from The Row. It will cost more than anything ever should, but when you’re wearing it, you’ll feel like you’re back in the womb. And I think all clothing should make you feel like you’ve returned to the womb.
AD: That answer just took me to church. So thank you for the blessing. [laughs]
SP: I do kind of see now that sometimes when you buy one sweater, you literally live in it all winter long, year after year. And then you take the history of the life you’ve lived and the new experiences you’ve had while wearing that piece, and it becomes very meaningful. I feel like that is a worthy thing to spend your money on.
AD: As a dancer coming up in the Broadway world, I always just wore what felt good. For my first job, I showed up to rehearsal in booty shorts and a crop up.
SP: When I find one thing that I love, like my favorite Gap sweatshirt, I buy three of them. I get very panicked about not having my favorites, because I spill a lot. The minute I put something on, it’s ruined. So it’s always nice to have a backup.
AD: Besides the fact that you’re funny as hell, I love that you manage to bring a sense of play to each look, wearing color and celebrating your lines and your curves.
SP: I never try to make a statement; I just wear what I want. It’s hard to be looked at, and the scrutiny that we’re under as actors these days can f- with your head. I remember a group of us at the Emmys once saying, “What would happen if we all showed up in jeans and sneakers?” We vacillated between the joy of that and our own princess dreams of wearing magical dresses being crushed.
AD: The best is when you can walk a carpet and feel like yourself. When I was nominated for a Tony for playing Donna Summer [in 2018], Prabal Gurung dressed me in a look that celebrated my show. He really turned me out.
SP: With the blue sequins and the white belt, right?
AD: Yeah. I was like, “Baby, I fit this right!” I was so honored, and I felt confident in it.
SP: When you wear a killer dress like that, you’re so in your body, and it resonates. Standing in front of a gorgeous backdrop of flowers, you look glamorous but you’re also very much in your power. It’s like, “Look what I did! I go out on Broadway every night to play this role, and people have acknowledged my work.” It’s very special and something you probably dreamt about since you were a child, and now you’re wearing something that makes you feel like your authentic self. It’s the wonderful meeting of fashion hard work all in one, and it can turn the moment into something that you never imagined.
AD: Right. I just felt like me. And that’s when you can really shine your light.
SP: I’d like to wear that green Prada dress from the 2016 Emmys every day – not because I won an award in it, although that was very meaningful, but because it had Bea Arthur vibes. I always try to dress like any of the Golden Girls.
AD: A strong shoulder gets 10s across the board from me. And that plunge!
SP: Oh, the plunge. The plunge. That was something I had never really done before. It was magical – in my favorite color, by one of my favorite designers, sparkly, and had shoulder pads. A shoulder pad never hurt anybody! And for my particular body, it’s the right move. I’m deep in Linda Tripp mode right now shooting Impeachment, and although I understand what she was going for, let’s just say her clothing is not for me. She did wear a lot of chunky gold jewelry and had multiple piercings in her ear, which I thought was kind of groovy of her. That’s not where I’m living right now, though. The outfits I wore for Ratched, with the tiny belts, big skirts, and shoulder pads? Now that is a world I could live in 24 hours a day.
For more stories like this, pick up the July 2021 issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download June 18th.