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The 83d Academy Awards

Red and white night

Michelle Williams, in Chanel. Michelle Williams, in Chanel. (Matt Sayles/ Associated Press)
By Christopher Muther
Globe Staff / February 28, 2011

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There was once an unofficial rule that actresses who donned red to walk the carpet during awards season would somehow blend into the background. But during last night’s Oscar ceremony, that outdated edict disintegrated as a parade of nominees and presenters showed up in blazing scarlet dresses. Whether it was cohost Anne Hathaway getting her legs consumed by folds of fabric in Valentino’s nouveau bustle gown, or Sandra Bullock looking elegant in strapless Vera Wang, red came out of the carpet last night.

But there was a much more demure presence challenging red for sartorial supremacy: a bevy of pale colors. White, blush, and nudes sparkled on actresses such as Michelle Williams, who, in Chanel and her blond pixie cut, looked as if she was ready to audition for a remake of “Rosemary’s Baby.’’ (Even when Hathaway changed out of her scarlet red-carpet dress, she changed into a creme gown.)

Unfortunately the pale hues weren’t always successful, as demonstrated by Nicole Kidman’s strangely embroidered and oddly constructed white Dior gown or Celine Dion’s futuristic frock. But on actresses such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Halle Barry, these lovely pale colors shined.

Anne Hathaway, in Valentino before hitting the stage, showed that red could stand out against the glamorous competition. Shades of the color were everywhere: from Penelope Cruz’s fiery (and very Cher-like) show stopper of a dress to Jennifer Lawrence’s body-hugging gown.

Michelle Williams, in Chanel, highlighted the evening’s trend of actresses donning creams, whites, nudes, and in the case of Gwyneth Paltrow, a lot of silver, for the red carpet. Even Mandy Moore, a rarity on the red carpet, looked stunning in her Monique Lhuillier gown.

Jennifer Hudson: Remember when Hudson showed up to the Academy Awards in that strange brown dress, and even stranger jacket, back in 2007? Consider last night Hudson’s fashion redemption. The actress showed off her new Weight Watchers figure (best advertising ever!) in a sexy tangerine Versace gown.

Reese Witherspoon: We haven’t seen anything this stunning since “Mad Men’’ sourpuss Betty Draper got a makeover in Rome. Witherspoon, in Armani Privé, added hair extensions and green baubles to transform herself into a retro beauty. For a moment, it looked like the 1967 Oscars.

Gwyneth Paltrow: Since her newest hobby is proving that she can do anything, Paltrow may as well add another. Last night, she proved she can walk the red carpet flawlessly. Her metallic Calvin Klein Collection dress was modern, but thankfully not in a January Jones way.