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Fashions Lighten Up At Oscars Tasteful Pastels, Off-Whites Rarely Go Beyond The Pale

The long, dark nights of Hollywood are over. The blackout has ended. The world’s most colorful community has embraced color. Well, sort of.

At the 68th annual Academy Awards Monday night, folks in the movie business woke up to the fact that television is also a visual medium. Eschewing the long-adored black, better for dinner parties than global media events, actresses went for a lighter shade of pale: white, cream, silver, shimmering pastels.

That went for makeup - pale lipstick was sported by virtually all the presenters - as well as hair. Double nominee Emma Thompson sported champagne hair to match her cream Armani. Winona Ryder had a heavily highlighted finger wave straight out of the Silent Era that complemented her nude-colored Badgley Mischka.

Dianne Wiest, last year’s best supporting actress winner, was very blond. Best supporting actress Mira Sorvino was platinum. (Well, she is playing Marilyn Monroe in a movie.)

And who can overlook best supporting actor nominee Brad Pitt, his hair a work in progress, as blond as girlfriend Gwyneth Paltrow (whose white slip of a dress, all one yard of it, dipped all the way to Baja)?

Among the women, the predominant fashion statement was baring their biceps in sleeveless or strapless gowns that showed off their arms - to say nothing of all those borrowed diamond chokers.

Susan Sarandon, the lone nun in a best-actress heat filled with prostitutes, wore a low-cut copper, halter-strapped gown that matched her scruff-cut hair. And she made all of American womanhood believe that age 49 could be truly amazing. Fellow nominee Elisabeth Shue looked gorgeous in a bare white satin dress.

Hollywood has always been an oasis of irony: all those rich, gorgeous folks dressing like slobs. Well, except for the always glamoroso Sharon Stone, the last of the great divas in the Gloria Swanson-Joan Crawford-Faye Dunaway tradition.

But Stone was a serious disappointment Monday night. Instead of chosing her normal uniform of Valentino, the best-actress nominee entered the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion all covered up in a black Vera Wang. Stone referred to her mock-turtle top as a “Gap shirt” - and it was about as exciting. Wang is the Manhattan designer known for her understated yet exorbitantly priced society wedding dresses.

It’s never good for a diva to quit her day job and start thinking she’s an actress.

Hostess/girlfriend Whoopi Goldberg, blessedly taking over for last year’s sourpuss David Letterman, looked regal in a black satin Donna Karan with a crushed-velvet robe. And of course, the obligatory diamond necklace.

On Oscar night, Hollywood tries to make amends for dressing down the rest of the year. Understated, elegant Armani was once again the designer of choice among Hollywood’s anointed. Men continued to be creative in their attire. Jackie Chan wore a black jacket and v-necked white vest, no shirt, no tie. Only an action icon can get away with this. Well, maybe not.

Steven Seagal looked silly - he always does - in a black Versace Nehru-cut shirt with gold-medallion coins. Tim Robbins, a better director and actor than fashion leader, wore a black shirt, striped vest and nappy jacket.

Pitt did the Tom Jones number with an open white shirt. Tieless, Nathan Lane had a white shirt decorated only with black studs; so did best director nominee Mike Figgis. The always creative Robin Williams wore a blue bolo that looked as if it had come from an unraveled sweater.

One moment of great absurd theater came when the world’s leading fashion models paraded down the stage covered up in period costumes. Disco Austen for “Sense & Sensibility,” rapping Scots for “Braveheart,” fashion fascist for “Richard III,” totally “Twelve Monkeys” and rocking “Restoration.” There’s something sad about this moment in time when stone-faced models can vie for celebrity with the stars.