Who Cares About the Best Dressed? Mr. Blackwell's Infamous List and the Art of Self-Branding

Before Joan Rivers’ Fashion Police (E! Entertainment, 2002- ), there was a man who made a reputation in Hollywood for his outspoken criticism of celebrity style.

Provocative, over-opinionated, controversial, admired, hated and feared; self-proclaimed fashion’s advocate Richard Blackwell achieved worldwide recognition after launching his annual 10 Worst-Dressed List in 1960. His outrageous comments against celebrities catapulted him to stardom, and turned him into a popular culture icon. Yet, the articulation of his list was a clear act of Winchellism rather than a sincere call for style. But, how much did Blackwell know about fashion? How did he become an authority on how American women should dress and behave?

Overlooked by the fashion industry, Mr. Blackwell achieved a status among popular audiences that his more knowledgeable detractors could not outshine.

This paper looks at historical reception of Mr. Blackwell as a victimizer, but also a victim of celebrity culture; as a master of performance and self-branding rather than a fashion conoceur. A man seeking fame and recognition, who cleverly found a niche in the entertainment industry through his controversial statements about stars, style and fashion, propelling a skyrocketing career in Hollywood he so longed for, and becoming a symbol for “all publicity is good publicity.”