Friday, September 22, 2017

Bus Drivers: The Butlers for the New Era

Back in the day, a butler had to be the most trusted of servants. A butler saw everything that happened in the house: the lady of the house in her nightclothes with no makeup on and her hair in curlers; guests quietly slipping from room to room in the middle of the night; letters from creditors and illicit lovers demanding (respectively) payments and rendez vous. They knew everything and told nothing. Their discretion was legendary.

You might think that there is no modern equivalent, but there is – at least for a certain demographic: parents of elementary school children. And that modern equivalent is…the school bus driver.
Like the butler before him (or her), the school bus driver is likely to see what we parents hide from the rest of the world. My kids’ bus driver regularly sees me with unbrushed teeth, an impressive case of bedhead, footwear ranging from slippers to sneakers without socks to bare feet, wearing whatever mismatched clean (or semi-clean) shirt and jeans are closest at hand, and almost invariably clutching a large mug of coffee as if it were a hand grenade with the pin removed. 

My typical "meeting the bus" outfit (the coffee mug is just offscreen).

Yet like the butler before him, he still nods politely at me and wishes me good morning as if I were dressed and coiffed for tea with the queen.

I love him.

Like the butler, the bus driver does not judge – or, if he does, he keeps his judgment silently to himself. He does not so much as raise an eyebrow if my daughter gets on the bus wearing a tutu and a tiara. He refrains from rolling his eyes when I come racing out of the house clutching a forgotten permission slip as he is pulling up to the curb (or pulling away from the curb). He smiles indulgently as my son breaks into a rousing chorus of Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You,” merely requesting respectfully that he lower the volume a few notches. There is nothing that I or my children could do that would faze this amazingly unflappable human being.

I sometimes wonder, in the case of both butlers and bus drivers, if their unflappability is an innate trait that led them into this particular occupation, or whether it is a skill developed with their years of experience in said occupation. I’ve never had a butler, but I’ve certainly had my share of bus drivers, and it seems to me that it must be a combination of the two. I’m not ashamed to say that if I had to drive a bus full of elementary school children, I’d run away screaming within the first week. It takes a certain laid back personality to take on the job to begin with. But at the same time, the calmest and most unflappable bus drivers I’ve ever known have been those who’ve been in the business for a long time and who’ve seen it all. I imagine that for every time an experienced driver sees a mom wearing slippers, he’s seen one still in her pajamas. I imagine that for every child wearing a wacky outfit, he’s seen one wearing an even wackier outfit. I imagine that for every parent who’s raced out to deliver a permission slip, he’s seen one delivering a backpack or a bag lunch or a pair of shoes or a paper mache diorama of the French revolution. An experienced bus driver has seen all there is to see and lived to tell the tale.

Speaking of telling the tale, I also have to wonder whether any of these discreet drivers may someday succumb to the siren’s call of a book deal. Like Princess Diana’s butler, a bus driver has a treasure trove of juicy gossip that could have the public tittering with glee. I just hope it’s not my bus driver. Or if it is, I just hope that the photo on the cover catches me wearing my good slippers…

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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Red Carpet Review: The 2017 Emmy Awards

When I write a red carpet review, as often as not, I didn't see the actual awards ceremony. I watch the Tonys and the Oscars, but for most other awards shows I might tune in for a few minutes, but rarely more than that. Last night, I actually watched the Emmys. Mostly with the sound off, because a good deal of the talk was annoying, but for the purposes of this review, my comments are based as much on how the outfits looked as the wearers were actually walking and moving around, rather than on a single carefully posed red carpet photo.

I also try to find different ways to categorize my reviews. Sometimes I'll group the actresses by age, sometimes by gown color, sometimes by fashion trend. This time I'm going to try something different and categorize them by how successful their red carpet looks tend to be. After writing red carpet reviews for a number of years, I have a pretty solid feel for whose looks usually work for me, whose rarely do, and whose can go either way. I'll start with those who usually get a thumbs up from me.

Usually a Thumbs Up
These actresses often take fashion risks, and they usually pay off. Although many have an occasional red carpet misstep, they're rarely bland and they're usually fabulous.

Felicity Huffman nearly always looks good on the red carpet, and she often looks great. She rarely gets too risky, but she goes outside traditional styles on a regular basis. This lacy mermaid gown fades from pale silver at the shoulders down to just barely aqua at the flared train. The deep but narrow v-neckline and the hint of lace epaulets on the shoulders were the only details needed to make this gown a total knockout. 

Laverne Cox always looks stunning on the red carpet, and last night was no exception. I loved her dark silver, multi-paneled gown with chevron seaming, wide-set straps, and short train. I especially loved that her hairstyle was simpler and her makeup less harsh and dramatic than it sometimes is. She looked fantastic, as always. 

Nicole Kidman would look gorgeous wearing a burlap sack on the red carpet (and she's come close to that), but last night's flared scarlet ankle-length halter dress with plunging neckline and gorgeous long diamond drop necklace and matching collar was one of my favorite looks she's ever worn, and probably my very favorite look of the night. It looked so fresh and comfortable, with just a hint of a nod to Marilyn Monroe. Complete thumbs up. 

Priyanka Chopra rarely makes a misstep on the red carpet, but I think last night was one. The base of her gown, a fitted white column studded with fan-shaped black embroidery, was quite pretty, but the chunky metallic "straps" at the neck and armholes, large black insets at the waist, and fuzzy eyelash fabric at the hem - which didn't quite flare into a mermaid style but still had a long, narrow train - spoiled the silhouette and the overall look. She still looked lovely, but it was despite the dress rather than because of it.

Reese Witherspoon always looks great on the red carpet, and although she often sticks to her tried and true formula of a narrow strapless column or trumpet gown, I loved her unusual deep teal satin double-breasted minidress. The unusual color was perfectly striking with her pale blonde coloring, and the long straight hair, coordinated pointy pumps, and vivid red lips were perfect accessories. A great - and different - look.

Sarah Hyland always has a youthful but classic elegance on the red carpet. She chooses unusual styles, but nothing too wildly outre. This belly-baring red print gown is in keeping with her style. Simple but not boring, the gracefully curved lines, tropical print, toned abs, and long dark wavy hair bring to mind a glamorous version of a hula dancer. Very chic.

Hit or Miss - Risky
I subdivided this category, because actresses whose red carpet success can go either way are easily separated into those who play it safe (they're rarely terrible, but they're rarely fantastic, either) and those who take fashion risks but with a lower success rate than the category above.

Evan Rachel Wood has sported red carpet looks that are all over the place, from traditional ball gowns to form-fitting velvet men's suits with cropped pants. In fact, she often sports variations on menswear, but rarely as successfully as last night's white 3-piece look featuring a cropped tailcoat, vest/bustier, some kind of white shirt (or possibly a low cummerbund), and full draped skirt. I didn't love the multitude of layers at the waist which included a double set of tails, but the overall silhouette and detailing were terrific. Thumbs up. 

Jane Fonda is another all-over-the-place dresser, from staid "I'm over a certain age" styles to "I don't look like I'm over a certain age!!!" styles. With her still-fabulous figure, I wish she'd done something more with this basic electric pink column with bell sleeves and short train. It was pretty, but boring. And her 1970s too-straight ponytail and heavy bangs looked totally out of character. I didn't even recognize her at first. Thumbs down from me. 

Judith Light often opts for gown that look good in a red carpet pose but move oddly or shift uncomfortably as she walks or moves. Admittedly, I didn't notice her at the actual awards, but this draped black gown with long flared sleeves, asymmetrical neckline, deep side slit, and all-around train looked like it would move well. The shoulder details were a bit pointy for my taste, but they're a minor enough detail that I'm still giving her a thumbs up. 

Mandy Moore is certainly willing to take risks on the red carpet, with varying levels of success. I remember a deeply plunging black chiffon number with a cape that worked and a ruffled Big Bird yellow column that did not. Last night's look leans firmly toward the "did not" column. The stiff black satin bodice descends into three even stiffer tulle ruffles, with a white ruffle in between two black ones. The lower black one was a little longer and had a short train. The placement of the white ruffle made her legs look disproportionately long, or perhaps it was that her torso looked disproportionately short. Whichever the case, it did not flatter her. 

Regina King experiments with many different looks on the red carpet: high-low skirt with crop top, print column with a white Superman-style cape, black satin column with a daringly broad diagonal swath of bare skin across the bodice. Many teeter on the verge of disaster but rarely get there. This dress has a few minor mistakes, but overall I like the look. The fabric is gorgeous, and I love the broadly pleated skirt with its deep slit, but the plunging halter is a bit too open for a pretty line, and the short band of pleating at the waist looks stiff and out of place. But the concept is terrific, even if the execution falls just a hair short. 

Tracee Ellis Ross is never afraid to take a risk on the red carpet; multiple bold colors, swaths of exposed skin, pants and a halter. But her risk didn't pay off last night, with a bulky silver knit dress with marabou skirt, wide silver belt, and white satin pumps. It wasn't space chic, it was just spacy. 

Zoe Kravitz has rocked some wild fashions on the red carpet, but this is not one. The black bodice isn't bad, although the waist falls at an odd place that makes her shoulders look droopy. But the skirt, made of rainbow Muppet fur, is a big no from me.

Hit or Miss - Safe
These are the actresses who hover on either side of middle ground, rarely trying something new and daring, but rarely crashing and burning, either. Their failures usually fall into the category of boring or bland rather than being truly horrible, and their successes are often quantified as "better than what she usually wears" instead of "better than everyone else on the red carpet".

Allison Janney has varying levels of success on the red carpet. I rarely hate her look, but it is frequently not memorable. Last night's gown, however, was terrific. A lovely white lace a-line gown over a nude underdress, its plunging neckline (held in place by a barely-visible modesty panel) revealed enough skin to be sexy without looking age-inappropriate or trying too hard. A really good look for her, and one of my favorites for actresses over, ahem, a certain age.

Elizabeth Moss is another one who plays it safe on the red carpet. Her look last night was fairly typical: a lovely, strapless, blush pink satin, ballerina-style dress paired with pointy shoes and a matching clutch. It was sweet and pretty, but the color washed her out. This exact dress in a slightly brighter shade would have been a knockout, but as is, it was pretty blah. 

Ellie Kemper's standard red carpet fare is a long, straight column. Fine, but not risky and rarely memorable. She broke out of her box a bit at the Emmys in this sheer, spangled, midnight blue column with a short train over a short, strapless, cobalt blue underdress. It was a flattering and eye-catching look, and I hope she continues to experiment like this, because it's working for her. 

Shailene Woodley also tends to experiment on the red carpet, and this particular gown is very close to being a complete win. The deep green velvet is beautifully draped, and the tiny paired criss-cross straps in the back are sexy and elegant. If only the v-neck were a tiny bit narrower and more secure (perhaps a tiny diamond chain at the top?), I could give this one a 100% thumbs up. But it's pretty darn close.

Uzo Adouba has worn some fabulous outfits on the red carpet, and some real clunkers. This white and silver two-piece gown with column skirt and spaghetti strap top is definitely the former. It shows off her voluptuous curves but skims and supports. And the white and silver is a striking contrast to her gorgeous, glowing skin and wild mane of hair. Stunning.

Haven't Noticed Her Before
Some of these actresses I don't recognize because they're new on the scene, or I don't watch their shows, or perhaps because their red carpet fashion has been less than memorable. Based on how well they did last night, we'll see if they're faces to follow or faces to forget.

Angela Sarafyan is a new face to me. Her style screams "model" to me. She manages to pull off the chartreuse yellow rather nicely, and I love the draping of the skirt and the poufed sleeves. however, the entire bodice appears to be riding a few inches lower than it should be, creating an awkward pushup effect and forcing the sleeves to defy gravity in an uncomfortable-looking way. Hike the whole business up a couple of inches and this look would be a win for me.

I certainly know Gabrielle Union's work on the small screen, but I had to google her red carpet looks. Nothing terribly memorable, but nothing terribly terrible, either. This particular look was a mixed bag for me: I love the black lace bolero jacket with diamond collar, but it felt out of place with the full black lace gown with barely-sheer skirt. And the hair pulled back into a hugely full ponytail didn't seem to work with the style, either. No bad pieces here, just a weird combination that didn't really work for me. 

Issa Rae's red carpet looks are usually pretty conservative - not bad, but not exactly eye-catching. This vivid one-shouldered red gown, however, was definitely eye-catching. I didn't love the mismatched sleeve lengths, but I did love the soft draping of the bodice, the ruffled detail on the left sleeve, and the braided coronet hairstyle that completed the Grecian-inspired theme. Truly lovely. 

Not being an SNL watcher, I had no idea who Kate McKinnon was, and this gown is not likely to make me remember her. The spaghetti strapped, black pleather bodice has a strangely narrow horizontal slit across the center that looks more like a seam that came unstitched than an intentional design, and the clingy white fabric makes her thighs look lumpy. It just didn't work for her, at all.

Leslie Jones was not familiar to me from previous red carpets, but Google tells me she plays it relatively safe on the red carpet. This look is right in line with the popular trend of sheet skirts over short dresses, and although I do like the deep slit, the heavy beading at the hem of the train, along with its just-barely-too-long length, creates a lumpy look at the hem. Overall, a mixed bag: not great, but not terrible, either.

Considering how gorgeous she is, it is amazing to me how Michelle Pfeiffer manages to consistently fade into the background on the red carpet. I can think of a memorable red carpet look worn by just about every actress of her caliber, but I didn't remember a single look of hers. This black dress, with black lace overlay over a nude base for the bodice, and a semi-sheer black skirt is pretty, but not memorable. Yawn.

Rashida Jones is usually somewhat bland on the red carpet. Even her most successful looks make me think, "Oh, that's kind of pretty," rather than, "Wow, she looks amazing!" This pleated lavender gown with wide waistband and triangular peekaboo at the bust is also kind of pretty, but nowhere near amazing. 

I don't recall seeing Samantha Bee on the red carpet before, but if she continues wearing gowns like this I'll certainly remember her! I love the effect of shiny and matte fabrics seamed together in graceful lines and shapes. The squared-off shoulders and deep round neck is 1940s, the seaming lines are 1920s, and the long train is glamorous 1950s, yet the whole thing works together. Good job.

I have no idea who Shannon Purser is, but she's too pretty to be eaten by this dress. It's a great color and a fascinating style, but it's too bulky and heavy and it completely overwhelms her. But kudos for taking a risk, especially as a relative unknown. I'll keep my eye on her. 

Usually a Hot Mess
Some actresses just always look terrible on the red carpet, no matter what. Maybe they have bad stylists, maybe they have bad taste, maybe they got stuck in a contract with a bad designer. But whatever the reason, these actresses frequently end up on my worst-dressed lists.

Anna Chlumsky was a child actress, so you'd think she'd have learned red carpet fashion rules early. But unfortunately, she often looks awkward and uncomfortable in unflattering or inappropriate styles. Last night, however, she stunned in a dress with an almost chain mail-style halter top and metallic silver skirt that flared into a rear train at the knee. It was simple but sleek, and it worked for both her figure and her personality. Nicely done!

A lot of folks love Jessica Biel's style, but I just find her to regularly be a hot mess on the red carpet, and last night was no exception. This ragged-looking gown looked like it was tacked together from a couple of random bits of fabric the designer found on the floor at the end of the day, and her square-topped hairstyle managed to make her gorgeous hair look bad. The main redeeming feature of her look was that at least the long slit drew focus to her stunning legs. But she was still a hot mess.

Jessica Lange is routinely a hot mess on the red carpet, so I was absolutely delighted to see her in this glamorous black velvet gown with metallic gold flower details. The soft lines of the gown, from the flared hem of the skirt to the triple-layered bell sleeves, were soft and elegant and age-appropriate and flattering. Nicely done, ma'am.

I cry for Laura Dern on most red carpets, so although I might not have liked this dress on someone else, it's so much closer to success for her that I'm awarding her a thumbs up. I actually love the top part with the black and silver lace with occasional peekaboo cutouts, and the black eyelash skirt is subtle enough that its featheriness doesn't bother me. I'd have loved a pop of color in a purse or shoes, but the look worked for me just as is. Keep it up, Laura!

Sarah Paulson's stylist hates her. That's the only explanation I can think of why this beautiful woman is always so poorly dressed on the red carpet. Wrapped in silver lame with linebacker shoulders that would make the '80s proud, this poor girl looks like a bag of Jiffy Pop. Sarah deserves so much better than this.

Susan Sarandon struggles for appropriateness on the red carpet, sometimes looking matronly and sometimes looking like an over the hill sex kitten. But this midnight blue off-the-shoulder mermaid gown with a small train hits just the right notes. Stick with this one, Susan; it's a keeper.

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Thursday, August 31, 2017

Red Carpet Review: The 2017 VMAs

Let's just get this out there at the very beginning: I'm old and square and I have absolutely no idea who 90% of these people are. I've heard of Pink, Katy Perry, and Mel B., and that's about it. But I do have a pretty good sense of fashion, and I even have a decent sense of what's appropriate at a somewhat edgy red carpet event such as the VMAs. So I'll do my best to be fair in my reviews of the wild and crazy outfits that were on parade. Some of the artists did a great job at making wild and crazy work for them, and some...a little less so. Let's get on with it!

There were a few trends that I'll use to categorize some of the looks, and then I'll review some looks that were less easily classified.

Sheer and Tight
This has been a trend on red carpets for quite some time now, but the VMAs really ran with it. Mostly black, often lace, occasionally metallic, some peeps of undergarments and some full-on visible, there were a wide variety of takes on this trend.

Alessandra Ambrosio paired a buttoned-up black lace shirt-dress with slick lace hose and black stilettos. It was a great combination of covered-up and revealing. A slick, edgy look that worked really well.

Amber Rose opted for a skin-tight black mermaid dress with a peekaboo pattern that was also covered up and revealing at the same time. Slinky and almost-goth, it showed off her voluptuous figure in a sexy but tasteful way.

Bebe Rexha's gown was more pattern than lace, with a modesty panel across the wide decolletage and a see-through skirt with an opaque short skirt underneath. The whole dress, but especially the bodice, looked uncomfortably tight, and although I loved the lines and the silhouette, it might have been more flattering on a slightly less curvaceous figure, or with a slightly less tight fit. (Skim, don't cling!)
Chantel Jeffries went super-simple in a gold slip dress over high-cut panties. Points to the designer for somehow making the top of the dress opaque but suddenly allowing a peep of panty at the bottom without any discernible transition. In fact, even the bottom of the dress seems to only be transparent when it moves or when the light hits it a certain way, which creates a great peekaboo effect.

Demi Lovato's black lace took the form of a jumpsuit with harem pants. I actually liked the puffy, spangled harem pants, with their angled yoke which flattered her slender figure, but the top was a little too see-through for my taste. A bit more coverage - even just a denser lace pattern - across the bust would have brought this to the next level. Crazy but cool.

Hailey Baldwin hit it out of the park with her silver lace jumpsuit. The plunging neckline, the oval satin sash, the wide-legged pants, the vertically-patterned lace, even the barely-visible boy-cut shorts all worked together to make a strikingly gorgeous look.

Heidi Klum made a rare fashion misstep in this gold lace dress that had a great concept but poor execution. The overlay fabric was drop-dead gorgeous, and I loved the criss-cross pattern under the bust and the high yoke at the neck. But the wide, tight keyhole opening appeared to be straining, and the way the lace pattern fell at her crotch made her underwear look as bulky as a diaper. It was a good effort, but it fell a bit short.
Justina Valentine went for simple sexy with a sheer chiffon slip dress over retro-styled black high-cut underpants and matching bra. The word "Chill" emblazoned in red matched her bright red curly locks and provided a great pop of color that brought the outfit to life. Simple, but effective.

Paris Jackson also paired a generally see-through dress over conservative undergarments, but the styles just didn't pair well. The sheer skirt over fitted shorts actually worked for me - I loved the stylized map on the sheer upper skirt with ethnic-looking art panels along the bottom. But the casual, sporty bra disrupted the lines of the structured bodice, making her look extremely flat-chested and spoiling the gorgeous embroidered art. I would love to have seen this with a lined band across the chest instead of a bra underneath. It would have saved the whole outfit. 

Sibley Scoles emphasized short and tight rather than see-through. Her micro-mini dress of gold spangled lace plunged at the neckline, with a subtle modesty panel with a spray of jewels along her collarbone. I loved the subtle hint of dark red in the beading and the scalloped hem. It was a gorgeous dress, but it kept the focus on the wearer. Great look. 

Tiffany Hadesh went with a short silver lace sheath with a round neck and long sleeves. The pattern of the lace became more open toward the hem, forming a long diamond pattern which drew in the eye and flattered her somewhat straight figure. It was simple, but pretty.

Vanessa Hudgens combined see-through sections with bright color in this fun, fire engine red gown. The bodice and top and bottom of the skirt were covered with a ruffled 3D lace pattern, with a wide swath of sheer fabric from thigh to just below the knee, and sheer sleeves and yoke on the bodice. The upper part of the skirt was lined with a structured underskirt that created a bit of flare, resulting in a fun and interesting silhouette.

Traditional Gowns
"Traditional" is really just a base here, although there were some truly traditional (read: conservative) gowns, both ballgowns and more slender columns. I like to see some of the couture twists that make an ordinary red carpet gown into a VMA red carpet gown.

 Alissa Violet wouldn't have looked out of place at the Oscars in this strapless plum satin column with slit and long train. The fabric was a bit crinkled at the waist, but otherwise the gown had lovely clean lines and looked beautiful on her. But it wasn't especially memorable, especially in this context.

Andrea Russet's take on a ballgown felt more VMA-appropriate to me. The traditionally full white lace skirt flared into a great line from the plunging neckline which revealed just a peep of the tattoo on her sternum (not generally my thing, but it worked really well with the gown). Somehow the sweet white lace and demurely waved hair paired with the "bad girl" tattoo really rocked.

Christina Milian also wore an Oscar-worthy gown. The steel grey-blue gown had a simple spaghetti-strap bodice and a slim skirt beautifully draped at the hip with an open slit at the front. The gown moved gracefully and its simplicity called attention to the wearer rather than the gown.

Gigi Gorgeous was a good example of a great concept but poor execution. Her corset-style white column featured long vertical seaming and interesting straps across the bust with lace and metal detailing, but the bodice was not well-fitted to her extremely full bust and focused too much on her generous cleavage. Perhaps a different hairstyle might have saved the look, but it just didn't work for me.

Hazel-E followed the current cold shoulder trend in this shaggy black gown with wide keyhole and peekaboo skirt. While I like the detailing along the keyhole, it makes her figure look...less than perky, and the long marabou fringe along the arms paired with the ruffled skirt makes the whole look seem somewhat droopy and tired.

Ivana Baquero looked cute but conservative in her metallic-on-white print halter gown. The criss-cross neckline and attached sleeves were cute, but the overall look was just a bit blah for me. I think the same dress in a really vivid solid color like cobalt blue or deep copper might have been a better choice.

Jenelle Evans wore a two-piece gown with a black organza A-line skirt and a brightly-patterned, midriff-baring halter. I loved the contrast of the two pieces, but I'd have liked it better if Evans didn't look so miserable wearing it.

Julia Michaels went for a more traditional look in this flared ballgown with a corset-style bodice. The spangled fabric that faded from midnight blue into silver was my favorite part. It wasn't a knockout, but it was certainly respectable, flattering, and appropriate.

Katy Perry sported one of the most avant garde looks of the evening in this gravity-defying asymmetrical white column. I really wanted to love it, but it was just a little too out of proportion for me. I think that if the right shoulder had been just a little narrower, or edged with a softer fabric, or even if her hair and makeup had been dialed back a bit, it would have felt more in balance. But as it was, it felt like she was trying a little too hard.

Kesha was a good example of a dress overwhelming its wearer. First, the sheer volume of the too many layers of ruffles weighted her down, then the broad puffs of tulle on the shoulders drew the eye outwards, and finally the overall color melted into her hair and skin. Poor Kesha deserved better, and from the expression on her face, she knew it.

Ignoring the birdcage (!?!!) for a moment, Lil Mama sported a long, draped coral chiffon gown. The ruffled neckline echoed the soft drape of the front slit and the graceful puddling of the train, and the wide black choker and long dark hair nicely framed her face and focused attention there. If the birdcage had been smaller and had been a functional purse rather than just a random birdcage, this look would have gotten a 10 from me, but I have to knock her down to a 9. Wait - there was a live bird in the birdcage? Make that a 6. Poor bird. I hope she brought teeny tiny earplugs for it.

Lorde wore a pale lavender ballgown with a simple crushed bodice and a full eyelash skirt. I'm not generally a fan of large swaths of eyelash fabric (it always makes me think of muppets), but the delicate color and graceful lines actually work here, especially paired with her understated makeup and simple half-updo. Well played.

Sofia Carson wore an all-black ensemble that perfectly matched her shiny, shiny sleek hair. With a deeply plunging, ruffle-edged neckline held in place with a modesty panel, the gown flared into a full A-line skirt with a chiffon overlay that swept and moved beautifully. Dramatic and chic.

Vanessa Morgan went in an entirely different direction in her pirate/gladiator/superhero-inspired gown. The floral top features long bell sleeves and a deep v-neck held closed with fabric bands, and the black skirt consists of a narrow front panel with two wide slits all the way up to the waistband, with a full back and just a hint of a train. Paired with knee-high gladiator sandals and long wavy locks, this sweet warrior look is tough but endearing.

Yara Shahidi wore a softly draped and wrapped mustard gold one-shouldered gown with a black sash and shoulder rosette. The color wasn't really right for her, and the style itself seemed too old for her. it seemed like it should work, but it just didn't.

Suits, Pants, and Rompers
It's not uncommon to see a man-style suit on any red carpet, either worn relatively traditionally or creatively (Celine Dion in her backwards tux, anyone?), but the VMAs often bring out pantsuits, pants paired with unusual tops, and rompers and one-pieces of various kinds. As always, some are more successful than others.

 Arielle Vandenberg broke out the leopard print in this stylized suit with flared cropped pants and square-shouldered jacket worn over a black lace corset and black ankle boots. I thought the flared short pants with a gap at the top of the boots looked clunky and shortened her legs, and the line of the lace in the corset was oddly truncated by the waistband of the pants. Slightly longer pants and a fully-lace bodice would have turned this meh look into a great one.

Cardi B. was a knockout in this white pantsuit with full skirted train. The futuristic lines of the bodice and the crisp structure of the pants were perfectly tailored. This is the kind of look that was meant for the VMAs. Big win.

Farrah Abraham belongs in this category because, technically, she was wearing pants, but clearly this outfit is all about the boots. The fabulous boots. And when you have a single accessory that is this fabulous, you want everything else to get out of the way. Her tight white pants and simple white fitted V-neck top with just a hint of angled detail on the shoulders was just right to fade into the background without being boring. I only wish she'd been carrying a tiny matching gold clutch to make this look perfect.

Laura Marano wore a black satin suit with silver detailing. Her jacket was fitted and flared, with a shawl collar and barely flared sleeves, and her pants flared dramatically at the ankle. As much as I loved the jacket, the line of the pants didn't work for me. Had they been either straight leg or flared a few inches lower, I think the silhouette would have worked much better.

Nicki Minaj was painted into a skin-tight, bubblegum pink, vinyl catsuit with giant cutouts over the breasts, accessorized with a wide diamond choker and cuffs, and pink and orange stilettos. There's no doubt that she has a stunning figure, but it would have been better served in something just a little less tight and shiny. Also, my boobs hurt in sympathy.

Pink absolutely rocked the house in this fabulously stylized three-piece, pinstriped suit with super-wide trousers that almost looked like a gown. The formality and masculinity of the suit combined with the soft fullness of the pants and the casual feel of the loosened tie hit all the right notes for this event. This was the best look of the night for me.

Renee Bargh was another big yes for me in this tailored scarlet romper. The cropped pants are just the right length and width, and the crispness of the squared shoulders and open angled neckline are softened just enough by the draped lapel and curve of the lines over the hip. It's bright and comfortable and eye-catching.

Sammi Sanchez went for a take on 1950s chic, pairing a tight-fitting black pants with a black vinyl halter and matching wide corset, with a sheer peach organza jacket and leopard print platform boots. She had me right up to the boots. Finish off this outfit with peach or coral point-toed pumps instead of the boots and this look would be at the top of my list.

Sydney Sierota opted for a lovely deep blue satin double-breasted jacket with brass buttons and matching pegged pants. The severe cut of the jacket gives just a hint of a military flavor, but the soft fabric and the puff at the ankle add femininity. This was a lovely young take on the suit, and Sierota wore it well.

Sophie Beem wore an outfit that can perhaps best be described as "pajamas with matching bikini". Her casual, candy-striped outfit was droopy and wrinkly, and although it would have been adorable at the beach or a sleepover, it was hopelessly inappropriate and out of place on the red carpet - even the VMA red carpet.

Short Dresses
The term "short dresses" encompasses almost everything on the red carpet that hasn't already been covered above. Everything from traditional cocktail dresses to two-piece microminis to slip dresses to whatever falls under this category.

Caroline D'Amore brought ethnic charm to the traditional little black dress in this gorgeously and colorfully embroidered minidress. The lines are simple, with a broad round neck and slightly flared sleeves, but the floral pattern is all the detail this look needs. Terrific.

Chanel West Coast (? I'm not even going to ask) sported a two-piece red and black patterned dress with matching long jacket. I liked the simple clean lines of the straight-cut, lapel-less jacket, the tube top, and the fitted skirt, and I liked that it was paired with a black bag on a long gold chain and cool retro sunglasses. But the black socks with black pumps was a big no for me.

Erin Lim brought a touch of sci-fi flair to her short black and silver wrap dress, with its wildly flared and oversized angular shoulder pads. I liked the lace sleeves and the simple straight lines of the dress contrasted with the busy but subtle metallic print, and the straight lines of the sash and its extra-long trailing ends were a great touch. A good look.

Jasmine Sanders seemed to be channeling either Pocahontas or the perhaps Attack of the 50-ft. Woman in this ragged metallic two-piece dress. The top isn't too bad, but the skirt looks like it accidentally ripped in several places as she was getting out of the limo. Too messy and forced for me.

Jeanine Mason was perky and adorable in this snug white dress with a series of black and silver bands at the neck, bust, and waist. Revealing but solidly in place, this dress wouldn't look out of place at a club, but it fit right in at the VMAs as well.

 Liza Koshy sported a great double-breasted black and white velvet wrap dress. Its deep neckline had a graceful curve, the sleeves had a generous flare at the wrists, and the hemline was just barely asymmetrical - all details that turned what could have been a bland dress into a really great one.

Mel B. wore a gold sequined sheath dress emblazoned with the words "YOU WILL NEVER OWN ME" in rainbow lettering. Accessorized with scarlet pointy pumps and a sideswept hairdo, she indeed owned the red carpet.

Millie Bobby Brown was overwhelmed by her frothy, ruffled, black and gold dress. The long ruffles and loose fit looked baggy and droopy, and the dress itself couldn't seem to decide whether to be prairie, prom, or goth. From the neck up, she looked fabulous, but the rest of the look was just a hot mess.

Defying Categorization
Some looks will never fit into a single category (and that's probably a good thing).

Lizzo seemed to be attempting to channel a bride with her romance novel cover white gown (printed with letters which may or may not have formed words - they weren't readable, in any case), bridal headpiece, and thigh-high white stockings with garters, for some inexplicable reason paired with silver sneakers. Maybe it ties into some album she's touting, but for the uninitiated it just looked weird.

Noah Cyrus may have been attempting to feature her cool boots in the same way as Farrah Abraham, but it just didn't work. The voluminous tunic creates shadows at the top of her legs and jumps to the foreground instead of framing the boots, and the overly-jet black hair competes with the shiny boots. Add in the ridiculously down on the nose pink Lennon glasses and it's just a mess all over.

So - whose look worked for you, and whose look needs to go back to the drawing board??

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