January 16, 2010, 1:26 am
Filed under: party girls

OK, this is a bit delayed, but because everyone’s “best dresses of the decade” lists were pissing me off, Grazia shall now attempt to set the record straight. Will try to stick to some consistent criteria, such as fabrication, technical construction, originality in styling, but mostly, the “oooohh, prettyyy!” reflex will control. Will also try not to allow bias toward or against the girl wearing the dress affect evaluation. In no particular order:

1. Screw You, Physics: Part I

Calvin Klein, Scarlett Johansson, 2004 Costume Institute Gala

Gorgeous color, especially in satin. Yellow can be a trickster, but this is a  nice and easy buttery shade. The construction is what makes it. That cleavage is not just tape and youth. Somebody sewed a bra into that dress. An effective demi-bra. A completely undetectable effective demi-bra. Sewn into *satin*, which shows every stitch put into it.

Coup: Designer

Best Part: The cleav

2. Screw You, Physics: Part II

Versace, Salma Hayek, 2006 Oscars

Salma Hayek is a goddess. Salma Hayek could wear a trash bag and be sexy. Sultry facial features, killer figure, etc. Anyway. The color, of course, is great, particularly on her. But the shape. Oh la. It’s one-shoulder, which is fairly standard, but not so much with all of the pleating, wrapping and double-strapping. The I’m-barely-even-trying hair, makeup and expression also contribute to the fabulosity. Much like Scarlett in yellow Calvin Klein, there is magic/voodo/mayjah construction going on here. Another effective and completely undetectable bra sewn into satin. Who is responsible for this engineering? Is it NASA? Was the Hadron collider involved? However it is done, as a busty girl with a love for colorful satin with spare necklines, I must know. I. Must. Know.

Coup: Designer

Best Part: The cleav!

3. Goodbye, “Matchy-Matchy”: Part I

Nina Ricci, Reese Witherspoon, 2007 Golden Globes

Let’s be honest. The dress is lovely, yes, but this one is really about the shoes. Actually, the combination of the dress and shoes. This is one that is more about the overall styling of the individual, rather than just dress selection.

Coup: Stylist

Best Part: The combo

4. Goodbye, “Matchy-Matchy”:  Part II

Armani, Katie Holmes, 2008 Costume Institute Gala

This one is along the same lines as Reese. The dress is gorgeous, but it’s really the combination of the dress, shoes, etc., that make it great. The theme of the Costume Institute’s exhibit the year this photo was taken was “Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy”. So, Katie’s ensemble was all the more fabulous for its fun little wink at the theme. She’s wearing a blunt, kinda-could-be-helmet-esque hairdo and superhero red and blue. This is what Wonder Woman would wear to the ball. Katie’s even got a wide gold cuff on her wrist – for shielding herself from lasers and bullets, obviously.

Coup: Stylist

Best Part: The Wonder Woman Effect

5. Nicole Kidman: Part I

Dior, Nicole Kidman, 2000 Oscars

Damn, how did I wind up with *two* pics of Tommy Girl on this list? Anyway, Nicole is a funny one. She gets her own section because she is a very interesting dress-wearer. She is kind of a stylist’s dream and nightmare. She’s tall and straight, so she fulfills the “walking hanger” thing that a lot of designers obnoxiously go for. But it seems like her coloring can be a trickster, non? She can pull off “ethereal”, “angelic”, “porcelain doll” and “firey tress-ed” and all of that, but it’s easy as hell to wash her right out or make her look harsh.

I think this dress is great for her because it’s not structured so much as it is draped. Structured dress plus Nicole can equal Harsh/Frozen Look. Also, the dress is goddess-y, but in a modern, original way, not the more common “hey, looka-me, im going for the grecian drapey thing” kind of way. Mostly though, it’s the fabric. It’s gold lame. There’s no getting around it. It is. But, it’s more like gold-copper lame. And more like lame and cire had a baby. Shiny gold lame/cire fabric, but not at all in a J.Lo sort of way. And with the soft ruffles that are ruffles, but not RUFFLES, evoking curls that are curls but not CURLS. The fabric and dress look like they were spun from Nicole’s hair.

Coup: Designer

Best Part: The fabric

6. Nicole Kidman: Part II

Chanel, Nicole Kidman, 2004 Oscars

See what I mean? Her figure was MADE for structured gowns like this, but the effect can get kinda mannequin-ish and harsh, contributing to her various Ice Queen nicknames. I wish she’d worn her hair down and loose and wild to contrast with the supersleek, highly constructed dress. But, that dress. That dress is a feat of engineering. Look at it. I ask you to take a good close look at that dress and tell me how in the hell it is staying on her. From the feathered skirt up to the ruffled neckline, it is perfectly smooth. No indication of boning or corsetry or grabby-onto-the-body-ness of any kind. What the hell is holding it up?? Obviously, not straps, but usually a strapless dress is tight around the bust, to keep the dress on. The bust on this dress jumps AWAY from the body. Strapless dresses do not usually have lower backs. Again, what would hold the dress up without the top of the dress snuggly going all the way around the chest and back? And yet, there it is, under Nicole’s arm, a dip in the fabric, heading  south for a low back. That is a strapless dress with a bust jumping away from the body and promptly diving right down into a lower back cut. The dress is not super-tight on her body. This is truly a dress that gives no outward sign of how in the hell it is staying on its wearer – unwrinkled and without a sign of construction in sight, no less. And that’s a fairly voluminous feathered hem – i.e., *heavy*. Where the hell did gravity go? Rest assured this is not the work of alien technology. There IS boning, construction, taping, etc, at work. But damned if you or I can see it. On satin. Amazing.

Coup: Designer

Best Part: HOW IS IT STAYING ON??

7. Old Hollywood, Part I: Classic

Vera Wang, Charlize Theron, 2000 Oscars

Everybody is calling anything “Old Hollywood”. Even if it’s not *really* Old Hollywood. Or it’s a lame attempt at Old Hollywood. This look is Old Hollywood.  And there’s not even scarlet lipstick involved, imagine that. Print this photo of Charlize in black and white and the only thing that might give her away as a modern starlet rather than an OH one is the lack of hips and bust in comparison to her predecessors.

Coup: Designer

Best Part: The strap gems

8. Old Hollywood, Part II: Pin-Up

Roland Mouret, Scarlett Johansson, 2005 Golden Globes

Miss Scarlett, on the other hand, not only has the curves, but looks like an OH starlet wearing jeans and a baseball cap — she doesn’t even have to *try* for that look, it’s just her features, she can’t help it. Besides the unusual and fabulous color, I think this was one of the first really “seen” Roland Mouret dresses. You can see the RM-ish structuring mostly in the origami-esque bust. It’s just really interesting. The fabric itself is so cool – it’s like an iridescent copper-peach or something. .

Coup: Designer

Best Part: The fabric

9. Old Hollywood, Part III: OH, Modernized

Vera Wang, Michelle Williams, 2006 Oscars

The shape of this dress is so classic OH. The overall effect is not. Charlize and Scarlett above are channeling Old Hollywood hard. Michelle is riffing on it. A lot of people loved this dress. A lot of people hated this dress. Because of the color, which I don’t get because it’s beautiful — and interesting, yay!  It is the combination of the curry-colored dress, the red lip, and the dark, not bright, necklace. Think how different this would look with  neutral makeup and white diamonds.

Coup: Stylist

Best Part: Curry + red lip + dark jewels

10. Gwen Stefani, Part I: Voluminous

John Galliano, Gwen Stefani, Stefani-Rossdale Wedding

We need to talk about Gwen Stefani. As far as I’m concerned, Gwen Stefani is a top female style icon of our time. Gwen has a great voice, is a talented performer and songwriter and I love most of her music. But I think that’s just the frosting on Gwen’s cake. Gwen’s cake is fashion. I submit to you that if Gwen Stefani had not a musical ambition in her body, she would still be a force in the fashion world, as a designer, stylist, who knows. Gwen is GIRL, through and through. Gwen just wants to have fun.When Gwen got married, she had John Galliano make her a voluminous fairy-tale but not cupcake-ish gown dip-dyed in hot pink. Of course she did.

Coup: Gwen

Best Part: Gwen

11. Gwen Stefani, Part II: Sleek

Valentino, Gwen Stefani, 2004 Golden Globes

Don’t even talk to me about “it’s too simple”. That’s the point. And don’t talk to me about the Judy Jetson hair, either. If she had loose or in any way “soft” hair, it would ruin the overall stark effect. It’s soo retro and sooo not all at the same time.

Coup: Gwen

Best Part: Gwen

12. Gwen Stefani, Part III: Signature

Louis Vuitton, Gwen Stefani, 2004 VMAs

I mean, it’s just Gwen. Being Gwen. All stylish and hilarious and sexy and goofy and fun and girly, all at the same time.

Coup: Gwen

Best Part: Gwen

13. Killer Details: Part I

Givenchy, Natalie Portman, 2008 Cannes Film Festival

Natalie Portman has cajones. And the wrong shoes. I’m not really sure there exists the *right* pair of shoes for that dress, but I am really sure the black ones she’s wearing are the wrong pair. The best you could hope for in terms of shoes, with a dress like this, is something really, really spare. Non-obtrusive, as invisible as possible. Flesh-tone or maybe a muted silver, with just enough “shoe” to keep the soles of her feet off the carpet and that is it. This is the origami dress. There have been origami dresses before and there will be more. This one seems special, I think, at least in part, because it seems so goddam *wearable*.  Origami dresses often wear a girl. This one is not wearing Natalie, she is wearing it. And I don’t think it’s just because she’s Natalie. Portman is a petite girl. Dresses like this are usually only truly wearable by extremely tall and curveless types (the walking hanger). But Natalie is not a walking hanger. She’s petite and has delicate features and could easily be overwhelmed and “worn by” too much dress. And yet, there she is, pulling off an origami dress. I think it’s the short, non-gown hem and nipped-in waist. Hell, with that shape, *I* could pull off that dress.

Coup: Designer

Best Part: The origami-ness

14. Killer Details: Part II

?, Dita Von Teese, ?

Dita’s entire wardrobe should be on any “best dresses” list. Someone should go ahead and write on entire book on Dita’s style. She is hardly the first or only to go for retro pin-up style (my personal favorite), but she is surely the one who does it the best and with the most panache. She has essentially created a character for herself and the character is almost entirely fashion-based. Dita is a performance artist. Dita is underrated.

Coup: Designer

Best Part: The neckline

15. The Now and Beyond: Part I

Louis Vuitton, Leighton Meester, 2009 Costume Institute Gala

Yes. Yes it is. It’s a dress. With pants, ok? It’s a dress, with pants. I know you want to mock Leighton. I know you want to say she looks like a clown escaped from the circus. She doesn’t. She really doesn’t, dammit. It’s not your average gown, but hurray! for that. Plus, she’s at the Costume Institute Gala and that event is made for wearing the daring. She is wearing one of those runway-only work-of-art outfits in *real life* and she is pulling it off quite nicely. That fabric is gorgeous. It looks like something a (male) royal would wear back in the day. And the solid bright red satin at the ankles? And the bow-tied shoes? And the ringlets? It’s adorable and beautiful and interesting and technically complex all at the same time.

Coup: Designer

Best Part: The fabric. Or the ankles. Or, the fabric…

17. The Now and Beyond: Part III

Armani Prive, Anne Hathway, 2009 Oscars

This is a big deal. It was and it will continue to be. It might not seem like it because it happened so recently, but this one will be one for the ages, talked about for a long time. *This*, I submit to you, is iconic. Not Anne Hathaway, so much – – I mean, you never know, maybe she’ll turn out to be iconic too. But, this dress, and this line of similar dresses – all covered in the   paillettes – is/will be iconic. I remember going to an exhibit at the FIT museum that happened to be a few days before this awards show and they had a silver paillette-covered Armani Prive gown similar to this one on display. It was stunning in person – the pictures of Anne and this dress, sparkly as they are, don’t even fully capture the light coming off that dress. Or the weight. Or the detail. Honestly, I’m, not sure she’s earned this dress.

Coup: Designer

Best Part: Sparklies!

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