Caitlyn Jenner's white Versace gown sent a symbolic message. Here's what it said

The symbolism was unmistakable — a flowing white gown in a classically draped shape. At the ESPY Awards, Caitlyn Jenner was a 21st century goddess on a pedestal speaking to the world about transgender rights: “Trans people deserve something vital— they deserve your respect.”

Dressing for a formal event for the first time since her transition, Jenner skipped the preshow flashbulb alley, instead debuting her ruched Atelier Versace gown on stage as she received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, making her fashion choice the most anticipated red carpet look that never was.

“Picking out this outfit…OK girls, I get it,” Jenner said, managing to negotiate her long train up the stairs to the stage like a pro. “Fashion police, go easy on me. I’m new at this.”

More photos: 2015 Espy Awards | Red carpet arrivals

By choosing Versace, Jenner may have been nodding to the Italian fashion house’s trailblazing history of promoting tolerance. Founder Gianni Versace, who was murdered on this exact date in 1997, was the first of Italy’s big designers to have the courage to be openly gay at a time when it was not widely accepted.

Since speaking publicly about her journey to womanhood earlier this year to ABC’s Diane Sawyer, and modeling a peach satin corset, and Zac Posen and Donna Karan gowns for the July issue of Vanity Fair, Jenner’s everyday outfit choices have suggested she is easing into the high fashion game (unlike MVPs Kim, Khloe, Kourtney, Kendall and Kylie).

Rather than opting for the kind of couture labels the K-krew flock to (Givenchy, Balmain, Alexandre Vauthier and the like), Jenner, 65, has espoused the look of a Malibu mom of a certain age.

She has gravitated toward super short miniskirts (showing off legs that would be the envy of a 35-year-old), body-hugging wrap dresses and skinny jeans by American fashion labels such as Alexander Wang, Diane von Furstenberg, Herve Leger and ALC.

In the case of the ALC striped floral knit pencil skirt Jenner wore out to lunch on July 11 in Beverly Hills, she bought the $325 style herself, according to a PR representative for the L.A.-based brand. (It’s available at Neiman Marcus.) But for the ESPYs, Jenner worked with Jen Rade, Angelina Jolie’s stylist, who has put Jolie in Versace on the red carpet a number of times.

Jenner’s Versace gown was in another league from what she’s worn until now, indicating that she is ratcheting up her fashion game. (Could a Versace ad campaign be in the future?)

Unlike so many celebrities who work the red carpet every day, she looked confident, her toned arms rippling through long sleeves. It was a powerful visual statement, even if it did feel a bit unsettling as a viewer to be waiting breathlessly until the third hour to size her up.

Then again, as the Kardashian mastermind, Jenner is familiar with the glare of the fashion spotlight. And now that she’s a woman, it will shine that much brighter.

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