All images via Getty except where noted.

The CMAs celebrated 50 years Wednesday night, which meant a night of real treats for longtime country music lovers: it opened with a procession of royalty performing a medley of hits through the years, including Reba McEntyre, Charley Pride, Charlie Daniels (terrible man, good music), Ricky Skaggs, and Randy Travis, who has been mostly incapacitated since a 2013 stroke but got up to sing the very last line of “Forever and Ever, Amen.”

Because it was such an auspicious anniversary, the stars dressed to the absolute nines: case in point, Kacey Musgraves, above with boyfriend Ruston Kelly, Trisha Yearwood and Mr. Trisha Yearwood (aka Entertainer of the Year winner Garth Brooks). Musgraves was simply stunning in a custom-made Christian Siriano, sleeveless with lilac tiers of tulle. (Great lipstick choice, too.) Let’s see who else ruled this surprisingly great awards show (hokey hosts Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood notwithstanding) and who left their fashion sense back on the ranch.


Cassadee Pope’s ruffled Marchesa was the most for this show, a lace bodice with two dueling wild horses embodying both the spirit and a common topic of country music. Not sure I would have chosen that conservative footwear but I do give her credit for a humane heel height. Love yourself, Cassadee. This look is very “Thunder Rolls.”

Gabby Douglas’s tea-length, train-laden party frock, by Rubin Singer, is so pretty and feminine, particularly with the edge of the cross-strap pumps; here’s a better view of Kacey Musgraves’s dream-cloud gown, let’s all thank Siriano for actually designing for women’s bodies. Nicole Kidman (with Keith Urban) wore a hot pink Gucci, which on the runway had the air of a suburban ’70s prom queen but in this context makes her seem like a true country princess.

Let’s hear it for brassy women doing their thing! Elle King wore one of my favorites of the night, a fringed racer pant and matching bustier, which was even better in that you could tell it made her feel great. Kelsea Ballerini’s satin Michael Costello gown was both eye-catching and elegant, as was Simone Biles’s silvery racerback column dress. Tanya Tucker did exactly what I hope to be doing when I’m 58: getting outré, flaunting it and doing it better than ever.

Enter the hyperfeminine! Aly Raisman lived out her best off-duty/formal ballerina dreams in a sheer, crystal-studded sheath over what looked like a classic rehearsal leotard; Carrie Underwood changed like 30 times throughout the night as a running gag that didn’t work, but her Michael Cinco carpet gown was gorgeous, a blush-colored burst of beads. Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles combined femininity with modernism in a J Mendel gown, a burst of poppies framing her neckline. I feel deeply conflicted about Raelynn as an artist, who is hypertalented and has an exceptionally stunning voice, but whose songs are often a gender-regressive claptrap; that said, it’s not surprising she went for this flowing princess dress, which is gorgeous and surely reinforces her essentialist views of what women and girls should “be”! (Hello, I hate how much I love Raelynn’s voice.)

Laurie Hernandez, who is definitely going to win Dancing with the Stars (right?), looked like a young professional in her Tadashi Shoji; Lennon and Maisy, too, appeared older than they are, complimentary in contrasting metallics; Maren Morris’s Michael Costello gown brings to mind animal print, flames and foliage, a pretty combo for a woman who easily had one of the best performances of the night. (With the McCrary Sisters and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band!)

Little Big Town did fringe and floral statements; not my fave, but kudos for the complimentary hues.

YES MOTHERS. Deana Carter is making it too easy—yes mom, you did shave your legs for this—and look at that lovely little petticoat peeking out of that party frock. Olivia Newton-John wore a lady tuxedo with a Western-style jacket; I’m most interested in the heels of her boots, which looks like a golden lucite situation. Reba McEntire did a modest brass like a star, and Trisha Yearwood’s belted, beaded caftan reminds me of that epic Violet Chachki moment.

Janie Fricke went fully fringe and turquoise/silver western; Jessie James Decker’s sequined gown has a nice, unique take on cutouts; Miranda Lambert’s black gown was simple and elegant, as was Pam Tillis’s striped column guy.

Jamie Lynn Spears definitely is going to the afterparties; I simultaneously feel like “you do you babe” and “you’re doing too many things.” Fuck it, though. Jennifer Garner was a little simplistic in Jenny Packham, but she knows the night’s not really about her. Kaitlyn Bristowe’s two-piece is an interesting proposition, a lacy two-piece with an ’80s feel. I’m not sure I love it, but I like that she wore it.

Brittany Kerr’s sleeve detailing is a nice touch; Maddie & Tae coordinated nicely and simply, where Wendi McLendon-Covey and Hayley Orrantia did not, though I love Hayley’s frilly iceberg of a gown.

Look at these guys! Billy Ray Cyrus, dad of Miley, did his signature bad-boy country man with a rocker tinge; it’s also nice to see him keeping abreast of the teen trends by wearing a choker. Even 55-year-old men cannot escape the cultural influence of Gigi and Kendall! Charley Pride’s suit is a throwback and I’m loving the lines of it, the sort of traditionally masculine triangle shape of the solid shoulders and slim pant. Darius Rucker and Thomas Rhett opted for tux jackets in nontraditional textiles, a nice grey brocade and inky velvet.

Ha, you thought I forgot, didn’t you? How loud were you screaming? I especially appreciate the way The Dixie Chicks wore subtle black looks to let Beyoncé and the rest of the players shimmer and shine. Bey’s was Zuhair Murad couture, a little bit classic country with the sleeves and a hundred percent luxurious majesty. What haters? Eat dirt.

Cam’s Mathieu Mirano gown isn’t really doing it for me, tonally; the nude illusion of Danielle Bradbery’s look, by Leanne Marshall, is lovely, but I’m not sure the draping is working on her, specifically; Gretchen Wilson was in the Kenny Chesney club of t-shirtdom, keeping it extremely real.

Alan Jackson and wife Denise Jackson had matching floral patterns on their lapels and arms, which is pretty cute; Cassidy Black, with Dierks Bentley, had on the same dress as Jessie James Decker, but at least hers is in navy; Sharon Stone and sister Kelly Stone also matched their ensembles, while THE GODS Tim McGraw and Faith Hill arrived like the King and Queen they are.


Next year’s CMAs may not be as gossamer—51 is a less exciting number than 50—so appreciate it while you can! Until then, I’m bumping Maren Morris’s excellent Hero and wilding out at my standing desk in sweatpants.