Sure, the Oscars are the night of nights for film—but fashion comes a close second. And at this year’s 88th Academy Awards, the red carpet delivered a strong showing from reigning queens and introduced us to some new style mavens. “This is the big daddy of all the red carpets,” says stylist Anita Patrickson, who works with Chrissy Teigen and Chanel Iman. “It’s where the couture comes out, where designers release gowns that aren’t even available for the Globes. This is a great moment to see the creativity and the best and the best—both the talent and the style!” See more photos in our gallery

Carrying on the trend that seemed to trick out every actress at the Golden Globes, the Oscars red carpet was overwhelmed with plunging necklines, to varying success. Margot Robbie looked stunning in a statuette-inspired, snakeskin-textured Tom Ford gown, keeping the look elegant by sticking to natural hair and makeup and a tasseled black clutch. “Last night felt like she found her own style,” says Patrickson. “She looked gorgeous, and it felt like exactly the right fit for her in every way.”

Charlize Theron unanimously stole the show in fierce scarlet Dior that proved the actress looks as good in Mad Max futuristic dust as she does in couture. “Charlize is so gorgeous and statuesque,” says Patrickson. “She has a striking style, she sticks to it and she doesn’t have to try too hard.” Meanwhile, best actress nominee Saoirse Ronan sparkled in a custom Calvin Klein dress that brought out her inner bombshell—bonus points for the patriotic Irish hue—and in doing so straddled another trend: sequins.

Keeping it classy: This, ladies, is how it's done

Naomi Watts’ simple, strapless column from Armani Prive was brought to life with iridescent, heavy sequin detailing (“Just per-fect!” says Mathews), while Daisy Ridley’s understated grey, tea-length Chanel Haute Couture number looked elegant with her futuristic hair styling and bold lip. Sophia Vergara’s otherwise snooze-worthy Marchesa gown also gave a nod to the sequin trend of the night. “It was quite boring, overly embellished and maybe a bit cheesy,” says Patrickson. “It’s hard because there are so many people watching all over the world and you get nervous, so you go with something you feel comfortable in and in a silhouette you know works. With some people that might work—we love it when Rooney Mara does it, but with others we want them to shake things up.” 

Julianne Moore also maintained the classic memo with her custom Chanel dress that was elevated by jet-black detailing on the halter-esque neckline. Jennifer Garner opted for an ‘80s-inspired Atelier Versace number that was heavy on the details. What could have looked dated ended up being an elegant revenge look.

Even a few of the guys had some fun with fashion

 

 

On the sweeter end of the scale, pastel tones brought out stars’ softer side. Queen of risky red carpet choices, Cate Blanchett, brought the magic again with a seafoam confection from Armani Prive that might not have worked on everyone, but looked stunning on the icy blonde. “It was absolutely made for her,” says Mathews. “On any other actress in the world they would have been laughed out of the room.” Patrickson agrees. “Someone else might have looked like a cupcake, but Cate is so grown up, and such a strong woman that she pulls it into a different place,” she says. “She makes it look like an artwork.”

Saoirse Ronan and Cate Blanchett had more than their Best Actress nominations in common with their green dresses. Adding a third to the mix was Rachel McAdam’s vampy turn in August Getty Atelier, with a daring low back, dramatic train and on-point hair and makeup that kept the look modern. The only downside? The wrinkles.

Feeling green?

Fashion favorite and Best Supporting Actress winner Alicia Vikander opted for a muted yellow custom Louis Vuitton (she’s the face of the label) dress with silver embroidery and playful bubble hemline that promptly launched a thousand Beauty and the Beast memes. “She’s a chameleon; she has the ability to change in to a character everyone time she walks the carpet,” says Patrickson. “The balloon hem was a risk, but it was still a timeless Oscar moment and very pretty, young and fresh, which is what you want when you’re a contender—you shouldn’t try a weird new trend.” Mathews felt the look could have been stronger. “I liked it but it paled in comparison to her SAG dress or her Globes dress and I wish she’d saved the big moment for the Oscars.”

Pretty in pastels

Presenter Emily Blunt glowed in a sweet, dusty pink Prada gown that revealed her adorable baby bump. But the pastel trend also brought out one of the shockers of the evening: Heidi Klum’s Marchesa mess. The ombre, lavender dress proved that supermodels don’t look good in anything, and would have been an immediate fail on Project Runway. “It was the worst of both worlds: too much skin, and too much chiffon,” says Patrickson. Mathews agrees: “I love Heidi Klum but I don’t get that ‘70s inspired, prom-feel dress.”

Some tried to keep things interesting by injecting the dramatic tone with texture, like Jennifer Lawrence, who wore a straight-from-the-runway Dior dress that might have been lingerie-inspired but “felt a little messy,” says Patrickson. Winner Brie Larsen also didn’t quite get the memo. Her Yves Klein-blue gown from Gucci was a great color on her, but she didn’t score points for much else. “If the ruffles were less and the belt was skinny it would have been cleaner,” says Patrickson. But not everyone agrees—Mathews liked the look. “She is becoming a big star and she really had her fashion moment last night,” he says. “I know not everyone liked it but I did!”

And from the "What Were They Thinking?" files…

Even more controversial? Presenter Olivia Wilde’s Maison Valentino haute couture. The romantic pleats and sculptural shoulders should have been a winner—but, in an example of how accessories can make or break an outfit, when paired with an oversized choker the look drew criticism. But E!’s Ross Mathews loved it. “It was edgy and fashion forward and I loved that risk,” he says.

Kerry Washington, however, took a leaf from Garner’s ex-husband’s book with her Batman-inspired Versace dress, with an ill-fitting leather breastplate and flowing white skirt. “She’s so gorgeous, but it wasn’t the moment for that dress,” says Patrickson. Olivia Pope would not have approved of this risk from the usually flawless Scandal star. And Amy Poehler’s large print overwhelmed her small frame. “I like that she went for it, but it might have been less distracting if it was just one part of the dress,” says Patrickson.

And refusing, as ever, to fit into any category, there was Lady Gaga. “She’s always a little extra edgy and this was no exception,” says Mathews of her white, hidden-pants creation from Brandon Maxwell. “When she won the Golden Globe she looked like an Old Hollywood movie star, and this was the 2016 version of a superstar.”