The biggest sign that something was different at last night's Oscars lay not in the predictable plethora of black gowns or the significant lack of blinding big rocks high-beaming from actresses' slender necks.
Instead, the evening was different from Academy Awards of yesteryear in one glaring way: There were no outrageous fashion missteps.
It was a year without stuffed swan frocks - circa Bjork 2001 - or style abominations like actress Sally Kirkland's 2002 metal alloy dress, which came with a pulley that raised a front panel like a curtain.
When the most startling looks of the evening are Hilary Swank in an unfortunate pink gown featuring an explosion of tulle over a teeny mini-skirt and Sean Connery's blousy shirt with ruffles cascading down his chest, you know something's up.
"People are being very respectful and toned down," said celebrity stylist Phillip Bloch, who dressed Halle Berry and Jennifer Tilly for last night's ceremony. "It's a very chic, glamorous year. It's opulent without being frivolous. It's sophisticated and not ostentatious."
With U.S. troops at war in Iraq and the threat of terrorism still hovering, last night's Academy Awards had presented a conundrum to many in entertainment. How do you dress? Do you celebrate? Do you mourn?
In the end, Hollywood seemed to decide on business as usual. If the show must go on, then let's make sure it's one worth watching.
Nicole Kidman was the picture of fresh-faced glam in a simple black gown with asymmetrical straps. Joining Kidman's elegant black gown posse were Cameron Diaz, My Big Fat Greek Wedding's Nia Vardalos and Anjelica Huston, who wowed in a sleek Versace gown accented with tuxedo-like satin band insets.
Best supporting actress winner Catherine Zeta-Jones was so pregnant she looked seconds away from giving birth, but she razzle-dazzled viewers anyway in a breathtaking dark chocolate and black chiffon gown with the added sparkle of tiny beads and bronze Swarovski crystals. Salma Hayek had similar luck with mixed hues and looked sharp by pairing a beaded black lace top with a white ballgown skirt.
Several A-listers made strong color statements. Kathy Bates and Renee Zellweger looked stunning in red, while Julianne Moore picked up on the emeralds and teals of her outfits in Far From Heaven and stepped out in a strapless green gown with a delicate ruffle. Kate Hudson and Diane Lane shone in champagne, beaded gowns.
And celebs who accessorized with tiny pins inspired by Picasso's "Dove of Peace" included best actor winner Adrien Brody, spiffy in a midnight blue, three-buttoned Ermenegildo Zegna suit.
The style mistakes were few, which made them all the more noticeable. The usually trend-setting Jennifer Lopez looked unlikely to inspire many copycats with a one-shouldered mint-green gown that made her look as if she'd hastily thrown on a bedsheet before stepping out of the house. Julie Andrews looked in painful need of a stylist with her navy blue sequined jacket patterned with bright, white flowers.
Joan Rivers was a walking faux pas even though she looked glamorous. Rivers, who did her pre-Oscar show even though the usual red carpet hoopla was canceled this year, looked radiant in a beaded Scaasi gown paired with a beautifully tailored gold jacket by Carmen Marc Valvo. But she ruined the look with fake nose-pickings and other tasteless shenanigans.
Halle Berry, however, looked the epitome of class in a gorgeous gold, one-shouldered dress by Elie Saab, the Lebanese designer who created the memorable mesh ballgown she wore when she won the best actress Oscar last year.
"There were more sophisticated, somber choices vs. the collective ornateness of a typical red carpet," said Tom Julian, fashion analyst for Oscar.com.
Which was not to say the evening lacked bling-bling. Instead of dripping with loaner Harry Winston baubles, stars tended to go with simple jeweled looks - just a necklace or a pair of statement-making chandelier earrings. And high, teased-up Valley of the Dolls hair was nowhere to be found. Instead, stars from Jennifer Garner to Julianne Moore wore unfussy, pulled back looks.
"At the end of the day. they're putting on a show for the servicemen," Bloch said. "I know they're fighting but, hopefully, this broadcast will be seen on TV over there."