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Monday, March 6, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Good night and good tux: Clooney wins fashion race

Seattle Times staff reporter

Sorry, Reese and Charlize and Nicole — but the prettiest one on the red carpet last night was George Clooney.

On Hollywood's most glamorous night, dewy starlets like Keira Knightley and Michelle Williams emerged as the new style icons, but the classic tuxedo was, well, classic.

"George Clooney, Matt Dillon and Heath Ledger all wore tuxedos with black bow ties. Those guys outshone the women," said Katrina Szish, style director for Us Weekly magazine, in a phone interview from the red carpet. "They looked fresh. They looked handsome. They looked like Hollywood leading men."

They were men worthy of wearing Oscar on their arms — or Jessica Alba, stunning in a gold Versace halter gown. (Take your pick, Clooney. You could probably have both.)

Some were not without a sense of humor; the winning "March of the Penguins" team clutched giant stuffed penguins onstage, while animated feature film winners for "Wallace & Gromit" picked up their statue wearing cartoonish, ribbon candy-striped bow ties. Bonus points for bringing matching mini-ties for Oscar.

Heath Ledger, whose rugged cowboy cleans up nice, accessorized with fianceé and supporting actress nominee Michelle Williams. Williams was a winner on the red carpet, at least, in a bright mustard yellow chiffon gown with a pleated portrait collar and 1940s-style gathered skirt that managed to emanate both classic glamour and a modern edge. In addition to the pale skin and red lips, she had the added advantage of retaining some of that demure, maternal glow from baby Matilda. Mommy loves you.

Best actress nominee Keira Knightley was stylish beyond her 20 years in an iridescent, eggplant-colored mermaid gown by Vera Wang. Console yourself with your cheekbones, Keira.

"I loved it. The asymmetrical, one-shoulder [neckline] is one of the most fashion-forward shapes right now," Szish said. "We've seen so many floaty, chiffon, goddess dresses. This looked very new and refreshing. It was right on the money."

As was the hair — soft and youthful, "the new sexy hair," in Us Weekly-speak. Most of the women wore loose updos at the nape of the neck, including Williams, Naomi Watts and Reese Witherspoon.

Witherspoon got the hair right but the dress all wrong. Her silvery metallic gown looked heavy, like chain mail, and its matronly shape did nothing for her figure. Reese, what have we learned about horizontal stripes?

Despite that misstep, Young Hollywood easily outshone the likes of previous red carpet stars Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron and Watts. Kidman phoned it in in a strapless white gown — not to sound too much like the tabloids, but could she have a wedding on the brain? — and flyaway, stick-straight hair.

Watts was lost in layers of deconstructed tulle that managed to make the petite actress look downright lumpy.

She should have traded dresses with Theron, who is statuesque enough to pull it off but instead opted for a dark Christian Dior number with a giant floppy bow on one shoulder. Is it detachable? Because it should be.

Finally: Felicity Huffman in Zac Posen. I fully expect Us Weekly to ask 100 people in Times Square if they love it or hate it, because I just can't decide.

Pamela Sitt: 206-464-2376 or psitt@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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