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From Fashion Flash to Fizzle

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Each fall fashion arbiters mark the season by proclaiming their best-dressed lists, invariably top heavy with the wealthy and socially prominent. But today the most influential fashion figures are those with exposure to millions through television, movies, politics and the arts. PEOPLE consulted a panel of experts—including designers Oscar de la Renta, Betsey Johnson and Perry Ellis, author (Cheap Chic) Carol Troy, department store mogul Stanley Marcus and photographer Francesco Scavullo—to produce its first Best (and Worst) Dressed List.

Cinema cynosure

At 26, John Travolta has already put a flashy stamp on American fashion. After Saturday Night Fever, white suits and black shirts became de rigueur. The sale of black T-shirts for guys soared with the success of Grease, and now Urban Cowboy has set off a nationwide stampede of Western-style shops. Off the set, Travolta favors faded jeans and sweatshirts, but does not hesitate to don silk scarf and Armani suit when a touch of class is required. The British-born Jacqueline Bisset, 36, may best be remembered for filling out a wet T-shirt in The Deep, but as Hollywood’s newest tastemaker, she dazzles in everything from demure white smocks to slinky sheaths and sequined jump suits. Like Travolta, her favorite big name designer is Armani. But Bisset credits L.A.’s Donfeld (real name: Don Feld), who did her wardrobe for Grasshopper and Inchon, with helping shape her style. She shuns pastels (“They only look good with a tan”) and sticks to neutrals like black, beige and cream. “I’m a real rehasher,” Jackie explains. “I take clothes from 10 years ago and mix them up with something else. I’m incapable of organized shopping.” So long to the soignée reign of Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn.

Talk show trend-setter

The president and co-owner of Johnny Carson Apparel, a division of Hart, Schaffner & Marx, is its most persuasive mannequin. The duds Carson sports on and off the tube are the company’s fastest movers. “He’s as sharp as his repartee,” applauds Stanley Marcus. Carol Troy finds Carson “adorable,” but wishes he would “try a more laid-back look and Hawaiian shirts.” Not bloody likely. Carson, 54, sticks to conservative styles and colors (blue and gray are faves) and reserves wild Severinsen-esque plaids for sports jackets. He scouts new fashions and fabrics wherever he travels, and replenishes his wardrobe 10 times a year. As a result, Johnny’s closet at home is stocked with 40 to 50 suits, with a duplicate set at the Burbank studio. Don’t expect a Carson ensemble bought off the rack to fit as smoothly as Johnny’s: The mighty Carson has a hard-to-fit macho build (a 32-inch waist with 41-inch shoulders), so all his clothes are custom-tailored.

Cut-rate chic

She doesn’t care a fig for Givenchy or Yves Saint Laurent or for anything that smacks of designer chichi. It was Katharine Hepburn who first made pants for women fashionable, and a half century later she still favors them—particularly gray flannel slacks with simple turtlenecks and no-nonsense Abercrombie & Fitch jackets. These days Kate, 70, sparks up her spare style with broad-brimmed hats, flat red loafers and a matching thrift shop scarf. “Hepburn always looks fabulous,” raves Oscar de la Renta. Chimes in Troy: “Her look is not preppy—it’s just classic Connecticut Yankee,” she says, adding, “It’s like the Ralph Lauren look but without all the frou-frou.”

Like Hepburn, Woody Allen manages to keep his clothes budget in line by investing in a few quality items that he recycles year after year. The result is a wardrobe as eclectic as his 44-year-old psyche: brown corduroy pants and white undershirts that peek out from under Brooks Brothers flannel shirts. Or, like the night he escorted First Lady Betty Ford to a Martha Graham gala, dinner jacket with sneakers. On average, he covers the 5’6″ from scuffed loafers to crumpled hat for under $500, but Perry Ellis hails him as “always looking good, always looking natural.” It may all add up to a sort of Joy of Angst statement, but it is as unmistakable—and influential—as Hepburn’s old-shoe look.

Classy kid

“He’s got the style of an adult,” marvels Francesco Scavullo of Diff’rent Strokes‘ precocious 12-year-old star Gary Coleman—”and the wardrobe to match.” At last count, it included six three-piece suits, three sports jackets and two custom-cut tuxedos—but Gary hasn’t lost his sense of fun and funk, which helped give him the edge over runner-up Ricky Schroder, 10. (The Champ star lost points for his passé ’50s style, according to Troy.) Coleman collects message-bearing T-shirts. He hates trying clothes on (like any healthy kid), and shuns the Rodeo Drive phoneyola, preferring to shop the stores around his old hometown of Chicago with his mother, Sue. “The little guy’s got pretty good taste,” allows Mom. “I trust his opinion on my clothes, too.”

Teen force for the ’80s

Her Robinson Crusoe bikini for The Blue Lagoon notwithstanding, Brooke Shields at 15 is (as Troy puts it), “a fashion force for the ’80s.” Although her Avedon-directed TV spots shill for conventional Calvin Klein jeans, Brooke is distinctly inventive away from the camera. She sports rings (all gifts from relatives and friends) on every finger, goes roller-discoing in brocade kimonos and turns heads at movie premieres in Victorian lace dresses. Exults Scavullo, who has been photographing her since she was 11: “Like Lee Radziwill, Brooke Shields radiates style in whatever she wears. It’s a gift from God.”

Punk pizzazz

“In 1965 Iggy Pop was thought of as a living idiot,” reports Betsey Johnson. “But Iggy was just ahead of his time.” Today, in the Age of Punk, that may mean pouring hot wax over his torso or impaling it with lead pencils. But to the permissive, 33-year-old Iggy’s harlequin trou and neon orange slashes are the sartorial New Wave. Likewise, Blondie’s Deborah Harry, 34—who has pranced on stage in a plastic trash-can liner. In more sedate moments, it’s jump suits and miniskirts by Montana, Mugler or Yamamoto. Noting her impact on a generation of girls, critic Johnson says flatteringly: “Debbie is pure ’60s Barbie doll.”

Stately style

Unlike her politics, no one questions the stylishness of the Philippines’ powerful First Lady, Imelda Marcos, 53. The former Miss Manila met her husband 26 years ago wearing, according to the palace biography, “house clothes and slippers, and crunching watermelon seeds.” Now she wears the traditional and glorious butterfly-sleeved ternos for state occasions and pantsuits and separates by local dressmakers for lesser functions. Social critics carp that she changes clothes five times a day, and Mrs. Marcos concedes, “I like pretty things.” Honorable Mention goes to Princess Grace, her daughter Caroline and Jordan’s Queen Noor, but among statesmen there is scant competition for Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, 61. The English may have popularized pin-striped suits but no one wears them with more authority. Observes Troy: “Sadat’s energy and charisma are barely contained by that elegant tailoring.”

Taste over type

Although her notoriety derives more from what she doesn’t wear, Suzanne Somers, 32, is personally an understated sophisticate. Once on her own—away from the anti-lingerie wardrobe mistress of Three’s Company and her own glitzy Vegas cabaret costumes—Somers gravitates toward clothes that are smart yet suitably sexy. She eschews harsh brights in favor of beige, off-white, periwinkle, turquoise and black. Her prime strategy: Buy expensive stuff and wear it for years. Observes Bob Mackie associate Ret Turner: “Suzanne shops with a good eye, knows her own style and sticks to it.”

The flair of genius

Even before he signed a recent Hollywood contract, tenor Luciano Pavarotti, 44, won bravos for his flamboyance, flair and graceful carriage of his 260 pounds. Onstage his white handkerchief lends an individual touch to the standard waistcoat and tails. Away from opera, he leans to dark shirts and wild ties, topped off with a rakish chapeau. By dint of years and distinction in the arts, Louise Nevelson, 81, stands out like one of her sculptures—head wrapped in a scarf, wearing several pairs of false eyelashes, personally-designed jewelry, Russian raccoon, loads of brocade and gold space shoes. “Nevelson,” sums up Perry Ellis, “demands that you look at her.”

Locker-room luxe

He stands No. 7 in the tennis world, but not Borg or McEnroe or Connors can match the killer instinct of Vitas Gerulaitis, 26, at the locker-room mirror. A self-professed ladies’ man, the Lithuanian Lion dudes out in $400 outfits by French designer Jean-Paul Germain, and puts to shame the warm-up suit frump of the women on the circuit. So enter the upset champ of the PEOPLE list, skater Tai Babilonia, 20. “Until the Olympics,” she recalls, “I lived in warm-up suits too.” But with a seven-figure, three-year contract with the Ice Capades, Tai can afford sports wear by Lauren, jeans by Klein and flouncy dresses by Albert Nipon, with four-inch-high Charles Jourdan heels. Denied gold at Lake Placid, Babilonia now flaunts it in a necklace from rock pal Stevie Nicks and a watch from Cartier.

Media a la mode

Barbara Walters, 49, keeps ahead of media contenders like Jane Pauley and Jessica Savitch in the fashion ratings by sticking to top names like Halston, Calvin Klein and Kasper—which she’s been known to buy at a discount. “Discreet” is the word Stanley Marcus picks to describe her style, but adds de la Renta: Don’t discount Walters’ “wonderful bosoms.” Of the men, Gay Talese seemed just too peacock, Tom Brokaw too bland. The winner, dubbed Gunga Dan after he covered the Afghan war in disguise, is CBS’ Rather, 48. At home he has a penchant for Levi’s and leather boots. But in the newsroom, the Texas pipeline worker’s son dresses for success in $500 custom English suits.

Politicos with panache

“There are no mistakes in Millicent Fenwick’s wardrobe,” says Washington Star expert Eleni Epstein. Her secret? “Not wasting time on the fashion game,” huffs the elegant 70-year-old New Jersey congresswoman. One favorite suit is a gray flannel number she bought in Rome in 1952, and her hemline hasn’t shifted a millimeter in decades. Another Republican, Ronald Reagan, 69, though not in the running with Hollywood elders like Cary Grant, easily outclasses Carter or Anderson with his beige Palm Beach suits, houndstooth jackets and jeans worn with cowboy boots—or (see right) any combination of the above. “He’s the one male politician,” says designer Johnson, “who hits me with his dressing.” Only Carol Troy dissents: “Ted Kennedy looks good even when his buttons are popping.”

A look that is forever England

On a yearly allowance of $203,575, England’s Princess Anne ought to be able to avoid the frightful fashion footsteps of her aunt, Princess Margaret. Alas. At home with the horses, Anne, 30, dresses like a stable boy (albeit one with a 36-inch bust). In public, she favors tailored suits, sensible shoes and the occasional fussy gown (above). Happily, she has abandoned her once notable collection of absurd hats. Princess Anne told an interviewer recently: “I’m no trend-setter. I’m rather conservative. I’ve got clothes I’ve had for years—I shan’t tell you how old they are—and I intend to go on wearing them. A good suit goes on forever.” And ever. Amen.

Heavy metal as a way of life

How does Sammy Davis Jr. ever get through airport security? He normally packs enough metal—in chains, bracelets and rings—to set off alarms all the way to FBI headquarters. “I have enough gold to retire on,” Davis admits. But on the advice of his wife, Altovise, he’s going conservative. “Next year I’ll be down to one ring,” he predicts. He also vows to give up “the kooky plaids and the wet look.” Sammy, 54, really wants to be remembered by fashion historians for starting the trend toward men’s purses (he owns more than 200 of them). “I needed something to carry my wallet and comb in, and I was too skinny to hold them in my pocket.”

And now for a look at the also-rans of fashion

Worst-dressed lists are an institution too, yet none has acknowledged the talent and effort required to be truly tasteless. Here are PEOPLE’s nominees.

A nod to the most improved

It’s hard to believe the lumberjack above is the study in pinstripe below—27 months and one appointment as the President’s chief of staff later. Hamilton Jordan, 36, cleaned up his act in July 1979 and Washington is ablaze with admiration. The nation’s capital is not a place where fashion is paid much heed; too much style raises suspicions of losing touch with the common folks. Yet Jordan finally understood that the White House has a standard of its own. “He looks like a businessman now,” says Washington designer Frankie Welch, “which is how people want the people running the country to look.”

Monotony & great legs at City Hall

It’s not that Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne’s clothes are dreadful—just dull. “She needs more variety,” says Dory Wilson, head of a Chicago PR firm. “She’ll wear the same outfit every day for a week.” Byrne buys most of her size-4 suits and dresses from local talent such as Lawrence Pucci, Noriko and Billy Falcon. All praise Her Honor’s figure, but none so earthily as her press coordinator and husband, Jay McMullen. “She has great legs and a great little ass,” he declares. “What more could you ask?”

The species is endangered

Rudolf Nureyev is sometimes a walking affront to animal lovers—when he wears his ankle-length sable coat over a snakeskin jump suit, for instance. Draping himself dramatically has always been his thing. “He seems to be reaching for an image,” notes columnist and former Women’s Wear Daily publisher James Brady, “and he looks rather bizarre.” Jeff Stein, co-owner of the trendy Camp Beverly Hills boutique, remembers the dancer browsing through the military wear section for two to three hours. He finally bought nylon Army boots, an olive drab hat and paratrooper warm-ups. Only the static line was missing. “He loves tight-fitting pants,” Stein says. “They show off his masculinity.”

From wacky to weird

Of course love is blind. That’s the only explanation for Cher’s lamentable lapse in taste: the Hell’s Angels look she has affected since taking up with New Wave musician Les Dudek of Black Rose. Once TV’s most glamorous personality, Cher was the woman who, according to admirer Betsey Johnson, “brought a tacky, wacky, sexy look” to the nation’s living rooms. Now she is typically decked out in leopard stretch pants, razor-cut purple or black hair, dangling earrings and vintage ’50s wraparound sunglasses. “Laverne has actually come into style,” marvels designer Bob Mackie, who was responsible for Cher’s most lavish and innovative costumes. Mackie confesses he is puzzled by Cher’s transformation—”I’ve been trying to figure this out”—but believes it is only a phase she is going through. “As soon as Cher gets into her new house,” he consoles, “she’ll go back to being an Egyptian princess.”