Julianne Hough made her debut 16 years ago as part of the professional dancers matched with celebrities on “Dancing With the Stars.” And now — since the ABC series returned for its 32nd season in September — she’s dancing to her own beat in a new role and an amplified wardrobe as the show’s cohost alongside Alfonso Ribeiro.
The TV personality made a dynamic statement on sensuality and strength on Tuesday for the grand finale, choosing a structural sheer black dress with a corset-like bodice and voluminous skirt from Versace’s fall 2023 collection. Lady Gaga wore the dress to the Oscars in March.
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“Gaga wore it. Gigi [Hadid] obviously wore it on the runway. So, it’s iconic already, and having this be the finale and just being able to wear Versace is really cool, too,” Hough told WWD exclusively in Los Angeles in her dressing room ahead of the program, which concluded with actress Xochitl Gomez and Val Chmerkovskiy named the winners.
Still, Hough’s choice to end her first season as a host in Versace had more to do with substance over style — it’s a full-circle moment on her path toward self-expression. “I think that it really [represents] female empowerment,” Hough said of the brand. “When you look at just the evolution, and Donatella, she has been such a narrative of strong women and showing that being sexy…there’s still a really strong place for that.”
She was styled by Jennifer Mazur and accessorized with Jimmy Choo heels and a necklace by Shy Creation.
“We wanted something that was a ‘wow’ moment, and also still chic and glamorous, and in a way that doesn’t feel too glitzy because I think in the past when I was on the show as a judge or as a dancer, my style was a little bit more glitzy — like sparkles and stuff,” Hough explained.
Indeed. Rhinestones, sequins, fringe and eye-popping colors are expected every season in the ballroom. So far the cast of pros and their celebrity partners did the foxtrot, tango and cha-cha-cha wearing outfits inspired by the theme nights such as Disney, Motown and even Taylor Swift.
Hough’s done her share of whimsical dressing as a cast dancer, but after a hiatus in 2009, she waltzed back on-air five years later as a judge — and with an elevated wardrobe that had slight reminders of her style as a competitor.
“That vision was so much different because you only got to see from my chest [upward], so I always tried to find something that was interesting from the top,” Hough explained. “But it was much more in that glitzy kind of era of my fashion evolution.”
Hough tapped Mazur two years ago to help refine her looks for all her appearances, including highlighting her style transformation on “Dancing With the Stars.” She counts Olivia Culpo, Camila Cabello and Alessandra Ambrosio among her clients.
For the show’s past female cohosts, dressing for “Dancing With the Stars” has also been an evolution with their own distinctive looks. Brooke Burke regularly slipped into evening gowns, Erin Andrews offered cocktail dress fare, and Tyra Banks brought flamboyant high-fashion — often going viral in the process. This year, when Hough took over hosting duties from Banks, who left after three seasons, the series gave her the platform to show viewers that her own fashion journey is here, too.
“It was absolutely intentional,” Hough said of strategizing her on-air looks. “I’ve really evolved my style in the last couple years.…I always had a vision of how I feel on the inside, but it’s not representing how I look on the outside, and so working with Jen [Mazur], she really helped me go into staple pieces and specific vibes, and I finally feel like I found my voice and fashion.”
Hough’s history with the series has given her an advantage — she’s acutely aware that there’s a delicate dance between individuality and synchronicity with the show’s reputation for campy-esque costuming.
“With this show, I was like, I want to make sure that I’m still a part of the same show — meaning I don’t want to go so far away that people are like, ‘this doesn’t make sense.’ So, there’s still an element of glamor, while also trying to add on a little bit more sophisticated, elevated fashion,” Hough explained. “And that was always the goal from the get-go. I want to feel like I’m coming in as me — I’m not adapting to fit whatever project I’m working on.”
Hough and Mazur selected the wardrobe ahead of the premiere, and they finalized the looks via weekly group texts with her hairstylist Riawna Capri and makeup artist Kate Synnott. “Jen has a very specific vision and she knows exactly what the story is going to be and the narrative for the whole season,” Hough said. “So, she’ll definitely give references to hair and makeup, and then hair and makeup will also chime in.”
On Sept. 26 Hough debuted the season in Saint Laurent, and she has since worn Brandon Maxwell, Valentino and other luxury labels, as well as custom and exclusive looks.
In fact, for the semifinals episode that aired last week, she wore a white architectural dress by Del Core with dramatic, sculptural petals that flared around the bodice. The design house didn’t produce it yet for anyone else but Hough, Mazur said. “I begged them to make it…that dress wouldn’t have been available until, like, January, February,” she recalled. “So I reached out to the designers in Milan, and I was like, ‘please make this for me.’”
While she’s often showered with praise on social media after each weekly outfit reveal, she did have a viral moment when she wore a billowing white Valentino dress with a collar. Her brother Derek Hough called it a “bed sheet” on Instagram — and she quickly became a top Google Trending search.
But the polarizing look almost didn’t happen after it failed a lighting test for filming. Hough and Mazur don’t have full autonomy over her outfits as the show’s production team can veto anything that creates technical challenges.
“We were so obsessed with it, and it was such an ordeal to get it,” Mazur said of the Valentino dress, which took her two weeks to acquire the only one left in Hough’s size. “And a few days before the show, the production texts me and they’re like, ‘do you have something else that she can wear? It’s not working with Alfonso’s outfit.’”
That night, fashion won.
“We did a little finagling and we got them to approve it and fix the lighting. It was too important of a dress to miss the opportunity. And it was quite pricey.”
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