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Designer Vera Wang, for one, was predicting some Academy Awards zing. “Everybody’s been so elegant and classical,” she said. “I think this year people are going to take chances.” Not after watching Janet Jackson‘s sunburst at the Super Bowl they weren’t. Opting for chic over shock, most stars chose couture that clung to—but did not excessively bare—curves. Elegant beat edgy, and vintage was au courant: Jennifer Garner turned up in vintage Valentino, while Samantha Morton chose vintage Givenchy. And (relatively) tasteful ice was much in evidence—from the 3-carat stone in Sting’s necktie to the 1,500 diamonds in Charlize Theron‘s clutch. Still, Hollywood did not allow good taste to ruin the evening’s fun. Swashbuckler Johnny Depp balanced his trademark cool with a brightly colored Band-Aid on his finger, given to him by his 4-year-old daughter Lily-Rose. And Jamie Lee Curtis decided against a long-sleeve black dress in favor of a bright-blue strapless gown. Why? “I felt like celebrating brave choices.”

Renée Zellweger in Carolina Herrera Cold Mountain‘s country girl walked like a lady in her silk draped-bodice dress, Manolo Blahniks and a Judith Leiber clutch. At an afterparty she tucked a white rose from honey Jack White into her cleavage.

Charlize Theron in Gucci

To her beaded body-hunger by Tom Ford (from his final collection for Gucci), the Best Actress added Chopard drops with 46 diamonds. When someone stood on her train, she turned and said, “Forgive me,” before yanking herself free. Boyfriend Stuart Townsend had one word for her look: “Sexy!”

Catherine Zeta-Jones in Atelier Versace

Her silk-chiffon gown with Swarovski crystals was made for her, she said, from a design by her “great friend” Donatella.

Nicole Kidman in Chanel

It took 400-plus hours to sew the crystal on this couture creation—but just moments for Kidman to fall for it, she said, “I liked the color and how it felt.”

Scarlett Johansson in Alberta Ferretti

She chose this pieced-satin frock from sketches; when she stepped into it, “I said, ‘This is it. I’m done.’ ” (She did add some dyed Jimmy Choos.)

Julia Roberts in Giorgio Armani

“I thought it was pretty,” said the star of her draped silk gown by Armani, who, she said, “made it for me.”

“I work to fit in my dress. I suck it in and zip it up. Afterwards I’ll have an In-N-Out Burger and it’s all okay.”

Jennifer Garner in vintage Valentino

Decked out with a Bulgari ring, Fred Leighton bracelets and Fendi bag, “I feel oddly like a grown-up,” Garner said.

Naomi Watts in Atelier Versace

Watts chose her dress on Oscar day “It said to me, old school glamor,’ ” she said. “I liked that it’s simple and still very dressy.” Another fave: Her 5-carat pink-diamond Fred Leighton earrings.

Rocker pop Steven watched her on TV chez pals Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith.

Liv Tyler in Givenchy

At the Givenchy show in January, “this came down the runway, and I was like, ‘I want it,’ said the Lord of the Rings heroine. One of the best parts of Ring fame? “Having children really think I’m a princess.”

Red Carpet Hazards

Taking that glamorous stroll (in the L.A. chill, yet) has its pitfalls

Cold feet (and hands)

With the temp dipping to the low 50s, Kate Beckinsale and Keisha Castle-Hughes got goose bumps. Heath Ledger warmed up Naomi Watts with an arm rub.

Shoe-ing off

When Melissa Rivers’s stiletto heel “snapped” on the red carpet, she simply whipped off the shoe and “gave it to a fan in the crowd.” Then Rivers went back to work—in bare feet.

Train wrecks

Liv Tyler and Catherine Zeta-Jones got stuck when people landed on their trains. And Vera Wang’s was trampled so badly she had to take a break “to have it sewn,” she said.

White Hot!

Angelina, Diane and Sandra wowed the crowd—and matched their sparkling smiles—with a whiter, brighter style in satin, jersey and silk

Snuck out of the Awards early to go home to her son.

Angelina Jolie in Marc Bouwer

Jolie chose this silk-satin halter gown because “it felt really comfortable. I liked the fabric.”

Diane Lane in Azzaro

Presenter Lane (who came without fiancé Josh Brolin) paired a crystal-trimmed jersey gown with a 22-carat ring from Harry Winston.

Sandra Bullock in Oscar de la Renta

“Love the feathers!” said Bullock of her ivory silk-faille dress. She also sported a Lambertson Truex clutch bag.

Bling Around the Collar

The girl with the pearl earring? For Scarlett and others, necklaces ruled

Nicole Kidman
It was only hers for one evening, but Bulgari custom-made this 195-carat green-diamond necklace.

Renée Zellweger

The borrowed $550,000 vintage Cartier choker “feels like old Hollywood,” said Zellweger. And diamonds on Oscar night “is a tradition.”

Angelina Jolie
Jolie’s $10 million, 85-carat Athena necklace, on loan from H. Stern, was made from rare D-flawless diamonds.

Scarlett Johansson
The star chose to detach a diamond drop that hung from the $600,000, 30-carat necklace De Beers loaned her.

Dripping with Ice

Bye-bye, chandeliers! These celebs took the long, slim view and dazzled with stiletto earrings

$2.5 Million Dress!

Maria Menounos

The ET host wore Randi Rahm’s gown made with 200,000 diamonds. “Only one fell off,” says Menounos. “My cameraman found it!”

Liv Tyler
The 22.5-carat danglers H. Stern loaned Tyler gave her the “bling bling” she said she wanted.

Hilary Swank

Fred Leighton’s $125,000 diamond-pendant earrings matched her sparkling Valentino gown.

Julia Roberts
“We talked about how she wanted to look,” says designer Cathy Waterman, who made the earrings Roberts wore “clean and elegant, like Julia.”

Hall of Fame

Paying homage to the signature role that won her an Oscar in 1978, Diane Keaton showed who wore the pants on the red carpet

Diane Keaton in Ralph Lauren

“Diane had a very clear vision of how she wanted to look: a dandy English lord,” says Lauren (who also designed her original Annie Hall look, left). “We feminized that.”

Playing It Cool

In muted silver, gunmetal or icy blue, these stars proved that using a little gray matter always makes a woman look smart

Her vintage gown is 26 years older than she is.

Samantha Morton in Givenchy

From the designer’s first couture collection, her gown “has 50 years of history,” said Morton.

Annie Lennox in Stella McCartney

Sweet dreams are made of this: a pale blue ’30s-style gown and a 22-carat, 1927 Van Cleef & Arpels bracelet.

Julianne Moore in Atelier Versace

“I knew I wanted to wear silver,” said Moore, who chose a sheath accented by tiny crystals and pearls.

Oprah Winfrey in Gianfranco Ferre

“Let’s get your breasts in place!” Oprah muttered while adjusting her dress before introducing Mystic River.

Dressing for Three

What to select when you’re expecting

Marcia Gay Harden in Badgley Mischka

Her twins (a boy and a girl due in April) were kicking, but Harden (who bravely chose 4″-high Jimmy Choo heels) declared, “I feel fabulous.”

Party Girls

They weren’t nominated. They didn’t even get to open envelopes. But when the main event ended, flirty fete-hoppers like Gwen, Mischa, Lucy and Kirsten grabbed the spotlight

Gwen Stefani in Alexander McQueen

Flaunting a marabou wrap and Harry Winston diamonds, “she looked amazing,” raved Queer Eye‘s Carson Kressley.

Misscha Barton in Marc Jacobs

The O. C. star wore gold velvet with crystal embroidery and partied with pal Lindsay Lohan.

Lucy Liu in Versace

The Charlie’s Angels crimefighter (in silk chiffon) celebrated with playwright boyfriend Zach Helm.

Borrowed nearly $500,000 in 19th-century diamonds and pearls!

Kirsten Dunst in Christian Lacroix

Dunst (in Fred Leighton jewels) got a lollipop bearing her image—a perk of being a Vanity Fair cover girl. “You can lick me,” she told beau Jake Gyllenhaal.

Foreign Legion

Three stars gave fashion shout-outs to their homelands

Keisha Castle-Hughes

“I’m channeling everybody from home,” says the New Zealand native of her dress by Kiwi designer Liz Mitchell.

Shohreh Aghdashloo

“My heart went with an Iranian designer,” said the Oscar nominee of her gown by Simin. “I feel empowered.”

Charlize Theron
The South African-born star carried a $100,000 diamond clutch by fellow countrywoman Lana Marks.

Quick Change Artist

Uma’s kooky dress took a rest

Uma Thurman in Christian Lacroix (twice)

“I just thought it was wonderful,” Thurman said of her organza milkmaid frock, which she swapped for a coat tailored as a dress.

Heads Up

Less is more sophisticated when classic buns are paired with elegant earrings

Uma Thurman

Fred Leighton provided the earnings and hair comb.

Jada Pinkett Smith

These Harry Windston gems are called studs on a wire.

Patricia Clarkson

Her chignon framed 5-carat Martin Katz earrings.

Naomi Watts
She borrowed Fred Leighton’s pink diamond earrings.

Jennifer Garner
The Alias star secured her coif with “a cool diamond Fred Leighton pin” and praised her hairstylist Oscar Blandi: “He can do anything.” The earrings? Diamond-and-crystal drops, also from Leighton.

No Botox Here!

13-year-old Keisha Castle-Hughes may have been the only star who didn’t smooth her wrinkles on Oscar night

Deep Plunge

Susan Sarandon in a Tom Ford for Gucci gown and Boucheron earrings.

Jamie Lee Curtis in Monique Lhuillier and a Cathy Waterman necklace.