September 18, 2000 12:00 PM

MAYBE IT WAS her childhood spent on a farm in Benoni, South Africa, milking cows and playing dress-up with a pet goat. Or perhaps it was the simple uniform and no-makeup dress code at her Johannesburg boarding school. Either way, by the time Charlize Theron landed in Hollywood in 1994 she was ready to paint the town–as well as her lips–drop-dead red. True, the 5’9″, 25-year-old ballerina turned model turned actress had to go plain-Jane in last year’s Cider House Rules. But offscreen, our judges say, Theron’s Haute Glam Rules are helping usher in a movie star look for the new millennium–from her couture coifs to the frisky flower tattoo nestled just north of her perfectly polished toes. “She can get away with nearly anything,” says model Mia Tyler. Indeed, quiz show host Ben Stein believes it is mostly Theron’s confident attitude that “convinces us she’s the most beautiful woman in Hollywood.” Confidence breeds contentment. “I love how happy she looks in her beautiful gowns,” says designer Dana Buchman. “You feel she wears clothes to suit her gorgeous inner being.” Likely the one back on the farm in Benoni putting on a ballgown with her goat.

Not everyone can carry off glitter and leather. But Mia Tyler says the Celine top and Dolce & Gabbana skirt Theron put together for the Manhattan premiere of The Cider House Rules last November “really works. And I like her in this red.” Dana Buchman calls the outfit “sexy and timely.” Timeless, says Elie Tahari: “The skirt length is right, the accessories are right. It’s classic.”

“What a knockout. The drape in the back is beautiful–and the color bowls me over,” says Dana Buchman of the Vera Wang gown Theron wore to this year’s Oscars. Designer Elie Tahari calls it “pretty, provocative, different.” Says singer Sisqé: “If you saw her that night, you’d never forget her.”

Mia Tyler finds the Narciso Rodriguez dress Theron chose for the Cannes Film Festival in May “a nice change from seeing her body so much.” Sisqé loves the pairing of the “shoes with the rhinestones and the tattoo.” Another “unexpected pleasure,” Dana Buchman says, is the stole. “And I love her dainty earrings and the asymmetrical cut of the dress. She really understands beautiful fashion.”

“She’s got a body for things like this, and great legs,” says Mia Tyler of the sequined, “funky print” dress by Narciso Rodriguez that Theron sparkled in at the Blockbuster Entertainment Awards in May. Adds Dana Buchman: “I like that she’s trying a different look,”

Elie Tahari approves of the “nice low-cut jeans” Theron wore to the L.A. premiere of The Perfect Storm in June. But Dana Buchman is more impressed by the Dolce & Gabbana tank top: “I like that it’s not a perfect match with the jeans, but it goes.”

Theron é la Marilyn Monroe looks “fabulous” in a Marc Bouwer sheath at the People’s Choice Awards in January, says Ben Stein. Sisqé agrees: “The hair, the shoes, the necklace with the little diamond–this is the lady we’ve been looking for.”

Dana Buchman considers the metallic beaded Armani gown Theron appeared in at the VH1/Vogue Fashion Awards last December a quintessential star statement: “Metal makes you think luxury, movie star. I love the clean line–and that one strap.” Or, as Ben Stein describes the dress, “it’s pretty much perfect.”

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