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(Fashion Review)

c.2013 New York Times News Service

Sleeves were in short supply and straps were so unrepresented on dresses at the Oscars on Sunday night that they might as well have been outlawed. But hold the envelope a moment: The verdict on this year's red carpet is not all that bad. At least it wasn't the usual monotonous parade of princess dresses.

In fact, it was shocking in a way to see fashion like the dress worn by Anne Hathaway. Her last-moment choice was a pale pink dress that appeared to have been styled after a household apron, as potent a symbol of feminine repression as ever there was. Only the dress, made by Miuccia Prada with a loosely tied back, featured a bodice that was intentionally subversive. The seams along the bust were so sexually suggestive that many viewers at home believed they were seeing part of Hathaway's anatomy.

"I didn't know what I was wearing until about three hours ago," Hathaway said on the red carpet, and, in fact, that would have been around the time that Valentino had sent out a news release announcing that she would be dressed in one of its couture gowns.

Hathaway evidently changed her mind, and one would like to imagine it as a sign of independence from the pull of Big Fashion. She also had on a Tiffany & Co. necklace worth a half-million dollars, but she wore it backward.

Anyone who pays the slightest attention to fashion knows the rap on actresses who wear clothes from the same designers with whom they have big advertising contracts. And though you could still detect the pull of special interests on the red carpet, there was less of a sense that actors were complicit billboards.

It was no surprise when Jennifer Lawrence, the new face of Miss Dior handbags, appeared in a Dior Haute Couture dress, the palest of pinks with a modernized ball gown shape. It was her third major awards appearance in that label. But this was the best example yet of how the house's new look, by the designer Raf Simons, could be worn in reality, which is to say beautifully, but not without difficulty. The skirt of the gown was so big that Lawrence couldn't reach the mani-cam on E!

While strapless designs still ruled the night, it wasn't all the same old, same old. There was that weird moment, for example, when Helen Hunt said she was wearing a strapless dress by the Swedish fast-fashion retailer H&M, not that the trend hasn't had a while to settle down into the mainstream. It seems unlikely, anyway, that Hunt just dashed in and picked a great-looking, on-trend dress off the rack. But let's not forget that Sharon Stone wore a Gap top out of her own closet back in 1996.

There were plenty of microtrends for retailers to chew over, like the gunmetal colors and metallic beads (Nicole Kidman in a swell L'Wren Scott, Naomi Watts in that extraterrestrial silver Armani and Catherine Zeta-Jones in campy gold Zuhair Murad). Also, even though only seen in two examples Hathaway's Tiffany rocks and a long, delicate Chopard chain worn by Lawrence backward-hanging necklaces are likely to become a thing.

There's no valid argument to be made against the old Hollywood strapless gowns worn by Jessica Chastain (a custom Giorgio Armani in coppery textured satin) or Reese Witherspoon (navy Louis Vuitton with a smart bow). But were not the dresses with sleeves more interesting, more, how shall we say, new Hollywood?

Jane Fonda, in a brilliant yellow Versace number that covered almost everything but a peekaboo cutout on the back, will most certainly wind up on the best dressed lists, along with Sally Field in a red pleated chiffon Valentino couture dress with a long train.

And the pointed shoulders of Halle Berry's heavily beaded art deco gown might have been a little severe, but it was nice to hear that Berry had told the designer Donatella Versace that she wanted to go to the Oscars dressed as a Bond Girl, and long sleeves were part of the result.