Special to The Times

FORGET bare backs and legs up to there. The latest body part to show off on the red carpet is a long, elegant neck, framed by a dramatically high collar. Actresses such as Cate Blanchett, Eva Mendes and Liv Tyler have stepped out in the memorable look.

"High, ruffled collars created one of the most modern necklines for the season," says Heidi Meek, a stylist at the Cloutier Agency who has worked with Kerry Washington, Claudia Schiffer and Eva Longoria. "Several ready-to-wear designers took this Napoleonic feel to their collections -- Alexander McQueen, Ralph Lauren, Jean Paul Gaultier."

Designers aside, perhaps no one has done more to raise the profile of high collars than Katie Holmes, who wore an Armani blouse with a shimmering, flouncy neckline at the dinner party the night before she married Tom Cruise. The November evening was easily one of the most photographed events of the year, with umpteen millions seeing Holmes' spotlight-stealing style statement.

Blanchett sported a nearly identical, high-sheen collar in September at Premiere magazine's Women in Hollywood awards. But the look hasn't always been so theatrical. Mendes arrived at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute gala in May wearing a Dolce & Gabbana gown with a less-pronounced, stand-up collar. And style eccentrics Tyler and Parker Posey also went the subtler route in September at the Metropolitan Opera's opening night and the premiere of the film "Shortbus," respectively.

But it was one of Hollywood's high-fashion priestesses who kicked off the trend earlier this year: Gwyneth Paltrow walked the Golden Globes runway in an ethereal, chiffon Balenciaga dress with a soft, ruffled collar.

"This look is very feminine," Meek says, "but it also draws the eye up and frames the face." Good thing, because actresses don't spend three hours applying makeup before a photo op for nothing.

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