Oscars: 4 Types of Dresses to Wear on the Carpet

felicity jones amal clooney the other dresses - P 2015
AP Images/Invision

felicity jones amal clooney the other dresses - P 2015

They can't all be winners but at least, they can have style.

The Nominee Dress

Not-likely-to-win nominees have two options: They can go modest like Felicity Jones, the "I'm just glad to be here" actress from The Theory of Everything, or they can just decide to have fun. Cases in point: Last year, Amy Adams turned up in a nervy navy Gucci corset gown, and nominee Jennifer Lawrence wore a jaunty red strapless Dior peplum number. In 2013, Jessica Chastain went her sexiest in a strapless semi-sheer gold Armani Prive, as did Naomi Watts, who strutted her stuff in a silver molded one-shoulder futuristic Armani Prive. "Think Michelle Williams in a yellow Vera Wang in 2006," says fashion historian Bronwyn Cosgrave. "The dress says, 'I'm here. I deserve to be noticed,' but in a less formal way. You can see by what Emma Stone's worn this year that she knows she's not the frontrunner. Her choices have all been fun and fashion-forward. Nominees can be a bit fearless -- a bit." Says stylist Elizabeth Stewart (Chastain, Viola Davis), "Nominees should go for it. It's their moment, and they have the world at their fingertips."

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The Presenter Dress

As a presenter in 2014, Penelope Cruz wore her most outrageous Oscar gown ever: a pale pink confection of a Giambattista Valli -- too ostentatious for a winner or nom. Notes Stewart: "I think differently when dressing a nominee and a presenter -- [with a presenter,] there's more freedom." Two presenters at the Globes, Jennifer Lopez (in Zuhair Murad) and Kate Hudson (in Versace) showed more skin than any nominee would dare: Is this a cry for attention or a savvy move? "Presenters can make a bold statement," says sty­list and designer George Kotsiopoulos, "because they have nothing to lose." But, adds Fashion Police's Melissa Rivers: "Even Jennifer Lopez isn't going to go half-naked to the Oscars." Says Cosgrave: "Sometimes it's an eyebrow-raiser, but Gwyneth Paltrow is now attached to Tracy Anderson's gym chain -- she's invested in branding her physique. It's selling videos. Call it subliminal seduction."

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The Style-Star Spouse Dress

George Clooney, Channing Tatum and Matthew McConaughey all have seemed happy for their respective wives Amal, Jenna Dewan and Camila Alves to grab the lion's share of red-carpet attention. This type of spouse is "arm candy with a slight feminist bent," says Cosgrave. "Forest Whitaker's wife, Keisha Nash, Mark Ruffalo's wife, Sunrise Coigney, and Camila Alves are beautiful women. The question is, do you want to be by your partner's side -- and get noticed, too?" With sexy gowns and eye-catching accessories (white gloves! crystal clutches!), such spouses stand out for showing their style without a dab of desperation. "If you're a plus-one at the Oscars, it's bad taste to make it all about you," notes Kotsiopoulos.

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The Behind-the-Scenes Spouse Dress

"It doesn't really matter what the nonfamous spouse wears because, let's be honest, does anyone really care?" says Kotsiopoulos, who has this word of timeless style advice for women like newlywed Eddie Redmayne's wife, Hannah Bagshawe: "They should dress for themselves and feel confident in whatever they choose to wear." Usually it's something basic -- often black -- or quite simple and below the radar, although the gown can be by a major designer who also happens to be dressing her husband. "They often don't get their hair and makeup done," observes Cosgrave. "And they don't have the support of a stylist or are the afterthought of their husband's stylist. Their best skill would be to know when to step up and when to step back -- not an easy one. They're not fashion people, and they're not contenders. They simply need to be 'polished.' "

This story first appeared in the Feb. 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.