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Erring on the side of elegance

January 17, 2006|Mimi Avins and Valli Herman | Times Staff Writers

IT was cold and very breezy on the red carpet at the Beverly Hilton, even before the sun went down. What's a girl headed for the Golden Globes to do? Wear her strapless, backless dress and bare sandals anyway, and instruct her hairstylist to pin up her tresses so securely that even gale-force winds can't ruffle them.

The Globes are the statuette season's opening act. That can mean the Big Gown will be saved for later, for the Academy Awards or a black tie bar mitzvah party at the Peninsula. The result is often a winning look, courtesy of not trying so hard.

This year, all the gals who jumped into little black dresses, like winner Mary-Louise Parker, gave some zest to the old evening standby. With her fetching pixie haircut, Natalie Portman looked very Audrey Hepburn (never a bad thing) in a vintage Chanel tea-length dress. More ladies in black were Sarah Jessica Parker in a narrow strapless by Rochas, Renee Zellweger in ebony silk chiffon by Carolina Herrera, Hilary Swank successfully backless again, Mandy Moore in a strapless column accessorized with a rope of pearls and jet black, and Jessica Alba, managing one of the many long trains. Charlize Theron's short Dior, a confection of tulle layers, was the antithesis of an overwrought awards-show gown.

Unfortunately, the quality of the red carpet was below par, leaving a layer of crimson fuzz on the bottoms of many gowns. Nadine Velazquez, the gorgeous motel maid of "My Name Is Earl," said, "I think I'll auction the fuzz on EBay."

White gowns were a popular choice too -- Keira Knightley's strapless Valentino, Gwyneth Paltrow's fluffy Balenciaga maternity frock, Reese Witherspoon's short vintage Chanel dress with silver paillettes, and the high-waisted numbers on Felicity Huffman, Maria Bello and Emma Thompson.

The evening's ubiquitous up-dos, including Melanie Griffith's Tippi Hedrenesque French twist and Sarah Jessica Parker's Grecian beehive, ranged from sleek to wispy. Better a soft bun at the nape of the neck, as Paltrow, Zellweger and Jaime Pressly chose, than big hair that droops (take note, Penelope Cruz).

Hair swept off the face showcased lots of long, dangly earrings. Kate Beckinsale wore what looked like the heaviest pair -- emerald drops that could double as door knockers. If jewelry was occasionally bombastic, makeup was subtle -- hardly natural, but soft, at least. Anne Hathaway, Kate Walsh and Geena Davis, in bright red lipstick, were exceptions.

Some of the many scruffy-faced men -- Patrick Dempsey, Matthew Fox, Jeremy Piven, Paul Giamatti and Ethan Suplee of "My Name Is Earl" -- probably had an excuse: shooting the next day. Maybe a few days' growth goes better with the ties and shirts so many guys chose over traditional tuxedo trappings.

And now for the evening's surprises and questionable calls. Surprises: Nicolette Sheridan looked as elegant as a Hitchcock heroine in navy jersey and sapphires, and Davis decided an old Escada gown was worth reviving. Questionable calls: fake tans (so 2004), and Drew Barrymore and Marcia Cross going without what used to be called "foundation garments."

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