This story first appeared in the March 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Everyone has one. Megan Fox licks her lips. Renee Zellweger bends slightly to put her hands on her thighs. The Olsens pout. And who can forget Angelina Jolie's leg flash at last year's Oscars, which inspired its own Twitter account? We're talking, of course, about the signature red-carpet look, a vital piece to any personality's public image. Appease the photographers' pit with a stellar stance that gets them their money shot, and you'll land prime real estate on the wires, ripe for the world's media to license out and publish. But look sullen, sloppy or ill at ease, and you'll gain an unphotogenic reputation that lingers. "I'm always like: 'Just keep face normal. Don't do silly face, don't do silly face,' " flame-haired singer Florence Welch told THR at the Grammys, adding that she tries "not to look terrified."
Many stars appear to be naturals, with the likes of Michelle Williams, Diane Kruger and Emma Stone looking confident and cool without trying. "It's not just about having incredible hair, dress and makeup. The pose is critical to how the dress will be perceived," says stylist Tanya Gill, who has worked with Hilary Swank and Kate Winslet.
For those non-naturals, especially newbies to the carpet, advice on how to pose usually comes from a stylist. "We teach them, but you do have to practice. We make sure that if a leg is out, it's crossed the right way, and they have that relaxed and authentic look in the dress," says Jessica Paster, who counts Ellie Kemper and Emily Blunt as clients.
While certain leading ladies do have their signature poses down pat (Amanda Seyfried's "legs wide apart" and Amber Heard's "raised chin" are examples of non-over-the-top yet easily recognizable body language), a pose must be customized for a specific dress to work efficiently, and stars and their stylists do dry runs to perfect how to move in it.
"The first thing you do is find the dress, then you teach them how to stand," says Paster. "It's not only important to pose beautifully to show off your best side but to also show how beautiful your dress is." Grecian column dresses require faultless posture, with arms held straight but elegantly (not plastered to the sides), while the rage for backless dresses this season requires the right curve in the spine and nailing the backward glance.
Among the no-nos is the blowing-a-kiss pose practiced by the likes of Lea Michele, 90210 star AnnaLynne McCord and, yes, Snooki, which tends to make one look like a constipated butler carrying a platter. "It's cheesy," says Louise Roe, fashion journalist and recently named host of NBC's Fashion Star. Adds Rob Zangardi, who along with partner Mariel Haenn put Jennifer Lopez into a black Anthony Vaccarello for this year's Grammys, "The more posey it is, the more posey it looks." Think Miley Cyrus' peace sign flash or Paris Hilton's, uh, anything.
Covering carpets for E! and the BBC has allowed Roe to study effective posing down to a science. She cites Anne Hathaway and Beyonce as mastering the "hand on hip" (a technique that makes the waist look smaller), while Eva Longoria's "over the shoulder" displays her toned back.
Men can't be slouches, either. Notes stylist Ilaria Urbinati, who works with best actor nominee Bradley Cooper: "For a suit to look its best, it's all about creating angles with your limbs. So a little bend in the knee and a little bend in the elbow with hand in pocket is always good. But the hand can't be shoved too deep in the pocket or it creates bulk. Also, a little bit of lean to one side adds shape and movement, which always photographs best. A good example is Eddie Redmayne -- he's got his stance down."
So are starlets increasingly expected to have the skills of a runway model? Events photographer and WireImage founder Jeff Vespa thinks so. "Our bread and butter is the full-length," he says. "So listen to what the photographers are telling you. Have confidence. Move slowly. Don't fidget. And don't make faces. These pictures will be on the Internet for the rest of your life."