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The Black-ish star's unpredictability makes her so fun to watch — here, Tracee Ellis Ross explains how she mastered a look all her own

By Sharon Kanter
September 07, 2018 04:21 PM
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Tracee Ellis Ross will wear whatever she wants, whenever she wants — and her glamorous unpredictability is exactly what landed her on PEOPLE’s Best Dressed Stars of 2018, alongside Meghan Markle, Cate Blanchett and more. (See the full list in this week’s issue, on newsstands today and online here.)

“You can wear whatever you want as long as it makes you feel fun and powerful,” the Black-ish actress, 45, tells PEOPLE. “There are trends of course, but there are no rules: Always feel free to express your own personal style.”

How would she describe hers? “Joyful AF.”

Conde Nast & The Women's March Organizers Host a Cocktail Party to Celebrate the One Year Anniversary of the March & the Publication of Together We Rise
Credit: Stefanie Keenan/Getty

That’s why she continues to explode in the fashion world, year after year. Most recently, she launched a holiday collection for JCPenney for the 2017 season, which received great reviews and celeb fans. Then, her love of wearing cool accessories won her the Style Ambassador Award at the accessories industry’s highest honors, the ACE Awards, this summer.

In fact, her style has such wide range — from hot pink gowns to lavender suiting to a leopard-print top paired with yellow pants and bright red boots (see above) — that it makes picking her favorite looks near impossible. “I have so many,” says Ross, who works with celebrity stylist Karla Welch for many of her red carpet ensembles.

75th Annual Golden Globe Awards - Arrivals
Credit: Frederick M. Brown/Getty

“If I have to choose, then it’s between the Marc Jacobs dress that I wore to the Golden Globes, and the Valentino dress and boots I recently wore to their Fall 2018 couture show in Paris,” she revealed. [Note: The Golden Globes look is pictured above; the Valentino look is below.]

Valentino : Front Row - Paris Fashion Week - Haute Couture Fall Winter 2018/2019

“The Golden Globes look because it felt like an expression of my history and my power; the Valentino look because it felt sexy and elegant — it gave hints but retained a mystery.”

However, for Ross, getting ready for a red carpet is as exciting as the event itself, she says. “I love, love, love making outfits, so trying on clothes is my favorite part,” she says.

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Selecting a look is quite the process, too. “First, I have to make sure it photographs well, because hanger appeal doesn’t always translate in real life,” she explains. “And vice versa, something that looks not so special on the hanger can really come to life in an amazing way on the body! Color is also important. And it has to make me feel like a badass when I put it on.”

Needless to say, she’s oozing with style confidence, which she credits to “knowing who I am, what I like and what makes me feel good over what other people think—and having stylish, loving friends who tell me the truth.”

Next up, she’ll be trying on a lot of options to attend the Emmys on Monday, September 17, where she’s nominated for Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, up against Issa Rae, Allison Janney and more. What will she wear? Something joyful, we’re sure.

See more of this year’s best dressed stars in the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands today.

—With reporting by Andrea Lavinthal