When the ladies of television take to the red carpet for today's Emmy Awards, there is only one thing we really care about: What will they be wearing?
Will it be the long gowns that usually hold sway at Hollywood award shows? Or, taking a cue from Cannes and New York fashion events of the last few months, will the hemlines take a hike?
"Crystalline creations from Thakoon, 3.1 Phillip Lim and Emilio Pucci sparkled defiantly on the red carpet at the Met ball, and more recently at Cannes," Style.com reported breathlessly earlier this year, writing about the rise of short sequined dresses. But here in Hollywood, could a style that converted trendsetters Diane Kruger in Cannes, Kirsten Dunst at the Council of Fashion Designers of America's Fashion Awards and Victoria Beckham at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Met ball really feel at home on the stuffier Emmy red carpet?
"We've had lots of requests for short, for cocktail-length, more so than in years past," said Carla Blizzard of Film Fashion, the veteran L.A. press office devoted to matching designer fashions with celebrities for red-carpet dressing. And it seems that this year, stylists are looking for something extra -- beading, an edgy design -- while the usual pretty, plain-Jane solid chiffons are left limply hanging.
L.A. observer and global bon vivant Cameron Silver of the Decades boutiques even wonders if "some of the tough-girl, '80s 'Balmainia' might make it onto the red carpet," referring to French designer Balmain's short-in-front, long-in-back hemlines and studded and beaded minis. These and their ilk have been worn by celebs such as Jessica Biel and Sharon Stone in the former and Lake Bell and Madonna in the latter.
It would seem that minis are unlikely for the Emmys, though, because only one of the 44 individually nominated actresses, Elisabeth Moss of "Mad Men," is in her 20s, and just two others are younger than 35.
But classic knee-length styles? If you need any convincing, look at red carpet pictures from the recent Daytime Emmy Awards, where a newly understated and chic Tyra Banks, in a Rachel Roy coral sheath (and center part hair -- no weave!), was the only memorable image.
Any sane actress might be forgiven for having a second thought or two about dragging herself around the Emmy red carpet wearing full-length taffeta or silk for a good 90 minutes on what is typically a roasting-hot day. That's especially true if it's not her first time at the red-carpet rodeo, like many of the veteran movie actresses who now are stars of their own cable shows.
But designer Monique Lhuillier, L.A.'s answer to Oscar de la Renta and Carolina Herrera, says she thinks short dresses will prove to be a temporary look, propelled by the craze for intricate platform heels and other such accessories. For award season, it's a different story:
"Everything being pulled from me is long," she said, referring to runway-ready styles as well as gowns she has been customizing for actresses this past month. "It's all about their achievement -- it's their moment and they want to look their best."
Not so surprisingly, Silver concurs: "For a TV actress, this is as big as it's going to get and she might think it's more refined to go for long and all the drama." Plus, old habits die hard, especially in a town where an actress will show up in a long gown and all the trimmings at any old premiere on a weekday afternoon in Westwood.
Hollywood will catch some fashion breezes coming off the Hudson this time around, as many of the nominees who are based in New York off-season (when not filming) have this year brought a cluster of NYC-based fashion stylists to the Emmys -- former Vogue-er Leslie Fremar is styling Kyra Sedgwick; ditto Anna Bingemann for Tina Fey, Jill Swid for Kristin Chenoweth, Elle alum Isabel Dupré for Padma Lakshmi and Shaye Strager for Marcia Gay Harden.
Eva Longoria Parker's veteran New York stylist, Robert Verdi, is helping first-time nominee Kristen Wiig face the red carpet (Longoria Parker is skipping the Emmys today for an event in Paris, but has herself often worn short dresses to awards shows). Verdi still thinks it's all about the economy. "Nobody wants to look rich, even if you are rich," he said.
The new financial sobriety has a covered-up counterpart in many designers' current collections, offering gowns with that once-endangered species -- sleeves.
"A lot of long-sleeved long dresses were the ones that felt the most original," Verdi said of the collections. "But L.A. girls hate to be covered up."
So that impulse too might lead them to short dresses now that designers, actresses and critics have all OD'd on the strapless column gown.
Verdi said he is also looking at lots of black dresses again, which along with the craze for metallic hues could tamp down the usual Emmy riot of too-hot colors, chosen because stylists often pull from designers' Florida- and Texas-bound resort collections.
On the other hand, Lhuillier says not one stylist has asked her for black, instead preferring softer colors and matte metallics for a slinky, "long and liquid" look.
Another watchable pairing on the carpet today has to be wild-card comic Sarah Silverman, garbed by ex-model-turned-stylist Johnny Wujek (known for his work with Katy Perry, which has ranged from demure pink satin for the Grammys to a 3-D tumbling dice costume for "Today").
And fashion scorekeepers will be looking at several possible game-changers. First up, Drew Barrymore, who usually skews sweetly romantic or retro sex kitten.
Second, the women of "Mad Men" -- January Jones, especially. Jones eschews the services of a stylist and usually puts considerable fashion distance between her '60s character Betty Draper and her own modern self, wearing Dolce & Gabbana, Versace and such under-the-radar choices as Parisian Andrew Gn. Her cast mate Christina Hendricks is a fan favorite, the inspiration for thousands of comments on blogs such as Jezebel and Television Without Pity from women who identify with her real-world curves. And there's Moss, the favored nominee, who was the most chic woman on the Creative Arts Emmy carpet last weekend.
Third, reliably chic frequent nominees and past winners Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Mariska Hargitay. Season after season, they count on a signature look from their all-American designers to protect them from the pitfalls of perilous trends and turn them out in lead-actress style -- Dreyfus, always sexy in designed-for-her-alone, vroom-vroom gowns by Narciso Rodriguez, and Hargitay, calm with the easy bravado of Herrera's latest from the runway.
Boucher is an L.A. stylist and writer.