Oscar clothing can reveal more than a single, spray-tanned shoulder or an improbable tattoo. Personalities come to light through the arrangement of fabric panels and mermaid trains and palm-size paillettes. Whether in tux or gown, in satin or chiffon, the figures on the red carpet get to be themselves without the protection of a role or an entourage. We started the night with some pointed questions and scanned the crowd for answers.
Is Jessica Chastain the Jessica Lange of her era or Jessica Rabbit?
Jessica Rabbit. Her goth gown featured a mess of appliques that looked like it was licked by flames. Worse than that: Its strapless top gathered up the skin at her shoulders as if she were in a yanked-tight corset.
Will George Clooney remove all hints of his schlubby "Descendants"character?
Yes, no mahalo vibe emanating from his Matt Lauer buzzcut and viva-Italia tux by Armani, which was set off with full-grown tie and studs and lapels. These signature sartorial details, like head-tilts and side-squints from his actorly repertoire, were hard to miss.
Which young thing looked unnecessarily old?
“Super stoked” though she confessed she was, 20-year-old Shailene Woodley wore a long white nun’s habit with keyhole cutouts. The Valentino Couture expanse of fabric reminded young women everywhere that they need not hide their arms.
Is Melissa McCarthy trying for Mae West curve-hugging or Camryn Manheim bulge-hiding?
Manheim, which is odd for an actress who went to school for fashion design and wants to start her own label. For all its balance, it was safe, and the label, Marina Rinaldi, is becoming the Lane Bryant of Hollywood.
Did Rooney Mara go goth or glam? Will she attempt a smile?
She let go of her severe geometric outfits in favor of an ivory Givenchy that had both imagination and frills. But her shelf of bangs preserved her edge. And yes, she attempted a smile, and it succeeded.
Is skinny Jonah Hill flaunting it?
Yes, but it didn’t serve him well. Black on black made the “Moneyball” star look decidedly less money. And older. And larger.
Will Jean Dujardin ever dare to break out of his character?
Jamais, jamais, jamais. Tuxed and slicked as “Artist”-ically as ever, he won the Roberto Benigni award for unrestrained European-ness.
Which performers announced, wordlessly, that we’ll be seeing more of them?
Rose Byrne ditched all “Bridesmaids” attire for a one-shoulder, black-sequined column dress, topped with a bob that hairdressers will be urged to copy. And sharply suited ex-Vulcan* Zachary Quinto sported some big frames that drew all eyes to his eyes.
How will Angelina Jolie show support for nominated partner Brad Pitt?
By letting her hair down. Her usual chilly perfection gave way to a warmer mien, with a tousled hairdo and a black velvet dress from Atelier Versace similarly cascaded downward, baring a leg. Or two.
Who accomplished little this year in the way of movie-making but made up for it in red-carpet originality?
Gwyneth Paltrow. America's new Betty Crocker bested all the old Betty Draper imitators with a snow-white Tom Ford gown and floor-length cape. And space-age bracelet. And mod blonde low ponytail. Her message: "I know what I'm doing."
Of the “Saturday Night Live” comedy goddesses, who got serious with her gownage?
Kristen Wiig popped the bubbly in her champagne-colored spray of tiers by J Mendel, besting Tina Fey’s semi-flattering Carolina Herrera navy dress and Maya Rudolph’s laughable Johanna Johnson thing.
How would Viola Davis preserve her streak of showing up EVERYONE this awards season?
By taking off the wig! Letting her hair alone for the big night made her smile somehow wider, and her emerald gown more gleaming.
Which young mom looks like a junior miss?
In a Louis Vuitton strapless dress, she showed off feather-light strips of coral that folded and flared in controlled proportions. For her, it proved that sometimes a fashion adventuress still wants to go to a prom.
*Correction: A previous version of this post referred to Quinto’s character, Spock, as a Klingon. Spock is a Vulcan.