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.


Jessica Chastain, best supporting actress nominee for her role in "The Help", arrives at the 84th Academy Awards. (LUCY NICHOLSON/REUTERS)

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.


George Clooney, best actor nominee for his role in "The Descendants," smiles near his girlfriend Stacy Keibler (background). (LUCY NICHOLSON/REUTERS)

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?


Actress Shailene Woodley arrives at the 84th Annual Academy Awards. (Frazer Harrison/GETTY IMAGES)


Melissa McCarthy arrives before the 84th Academy Awards. (Matt Sayles/AP)

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?


Rooney Mara, best actress nominee for her role in "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." (MARIO ANZUONI/REUTERS)

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?


Jonah Hill arrives before the 84th Academy Awards. (Joel Ryan/AP)

Yes, but it didn’t serve him well. Black on black made the “Moneyball” star look decidedly less money. And older. And larger.


Jean Dujardin arrives before the 84th Academy Awards. (Chris Carlson/AP)

Jamais, jamais, jamais. Tuxed and slicked as “Artist”-ically as ever, he won the Roberto Benigni award for unrestrained European-ness.


Rose Byrne arrives before the 84th Academy Awards. (Chris Pizzello/AP)

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?


Actress Angelina Jolie poses on the red carpet as her partner Brad Pitt does a television interview behind her. (LUCAS JACKSON/REUTERS)

Who accomplished little this year in the way of movie-making but made up for it in red-carpet originality?


Actress Gwyneth Paltrow arrives at the 84th Annual Academy Awards held at the Hollywood & Highland Center on Feb. 26, 2012 in Hollywood, California. (Jason Merritt/GETTY IMAGES)

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 arrives before the 84th Academy Awards. (Matt Sayles/AP)

How would Viola Davis preserve her streak of showing up EVERYONE this awards season?


Viola Davis arrives before the 84th Academy Awards. (Matt Sayles/AP)

Which young mom looks like a junior miss?


Michelle Williams, best actress nominee for her role in "My Week with Marilyn," arrives on the red carpet. (MARIO ANZUONI/REUTERS)


View Photo Gallery: Which stars do you think looked the best on red carpet? Vote for your favorites and check back to see who is leading the line up.

*Correction: A previous version of this post referred to Quinto’s character, Spock, as a Klingon. Spock is a Vulcan.