From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
Call it the age of gravitas. Gone were the purples and greens of Whoopi's yesteryear, the extraterrestrial Geena Davis, ready for lift-off, the single-sleeved Kim Basinger, the kookily corn-rowed Juliette Lewis. Missing altogether was Cher. Instead the stars came out, as if by mutual agreement, styled with a subdued elegance appropriate to Schindler's year and exuding a good old-fashioned Hollywood glamor that did Oscar (and Oskar) proud. Viewers of the 66th annual Academy Awards last week were treated to a shimmering parade of whites, creams and eggshells; silks, satins and velvets; slips, sheaths, shawl collars and significant black dresses. Sequins were scarce and faux pas were few. The one indulgence? Some $4 million worth of Harry Winston's borrowed jewels glittered around the necks and wrists of Dolly Parton, Rosie O'Donnell and Goldie Hawn, among others.

"People didn't go all out," said photographer Annie Leibovitz during the post-Oscars party at Morton's thrown by Vanity Fair and producer Steve Tisch. "It's a different time. Just look at the films. We've all grown up." (Leibovitz came clad in a natty Richard Tyler pinstripe suit—its pockets still stitched shut—that the designer had FedExed to her two days before the ceremony.)

Awards-night host Whoopi Goldberg set the tone—in a sober, cognac-colored velvet gown that she had requested from Oscar-telecast costumer Ray Aghayan just five days before the show. Apart from a few glancing verbal jabs (at Bob Dole and the Grammys) during the presentations, her most outrageous act of the evening was to don a fussy Armani tux and liberate her hair halfway through the show. As for Marisa Tomei and Best Actress Holly Hunter (in Vera Wang confections), Goldie Hawn and Madeleine Stowe (in Calvin Klein), Nicole Kidman in a columnar black velvet Valentino, Glenn Close in a severe silver Armani, and Whitney Houston and Janet Jackson in swanky white pantsuits, all created not waves but ripples of satisfaction.

Still, some observers were nostalgic for those baffling fashion choices that make Oscar history. New York City designer Isaac Mizrahi laments the lack of "color—not just pinks and blues but personality and pizzazz. Deborah Kerr was almost happening in her pale blue." And Arnold Scaasi gripes, "Boring, boring, boring. The stars looked like they were afraid to show their individuality."

The evening's award for Squandered Opportunity to Make a Statement goes to the usually daring, always statuesque Geena Davis, whose Ruth Meyers draped white dress with plunging neck-and backline was less than it might have been. "She's a screen goddess," cries minimalist designer Michael Kors. "She should look like one." Thank heavens, Kors says, for Sharon Stone's sartorial instincts. Clad in a clingy black Valentino slit up the front as far as legal limits permit, her hair marcelled in '30s waves, the femme fatale oozed fabulousness. "There may not be great talent there," says Kors, "but she looks like a movie star."

Also looking like movie stars, for a change, were the men, who played variations on the tuxedo theme to wonderful effect. Most of Generation U (for under 45) went tieless, white shirt optional (Christian Slater, Jeff Bridges, Antonio Banderas), while those who hauled out the old tux-and-tie combo—like Paul Newman, Jeremy Irons, Clint Eastwood, Alec Baldwin, Tom Hanks and Harrison Ford—proved that classic is classy. Ford in particular, says Mizrahi, "has to be the handsomest thing in the world in a tuxedo—so dreamy." Natasha Richardson, however, was no doubt not the only person who went to sleep dreaming of Schindler's List star Liam Neeson (her 6'4" fiancé), who towered above the rest in a basic black collarless shirt and velvet jacket with a shawl collar. Tom Cruise, in Armani, a beard-in-progress and floppy forelocks, worried not at all—or so he said—about what outfit to choose. "My wife likes it," he explained. "There's no thought process beyond that."

Not surprisingly, most stars paid more attention Lo the designers' opinions than to their spouses'. Giorgio Armani, Vera Wang, Richard Tyler and others happily dressed the stars gratis in return for the best publicity of the year. "It's an offer you can't turn down, but it gets a little monotonous when everyone shows up in Armani," sniffs Nolan Miller, who has dressed such stars as Joan Crawford and Barbra Streisand. (Miller, as the costume designer for the awards in 1986, sent letters lo participants reminding them of the importance of appearing at the Oscars "the way the world expects a movie star to look.") And where did Laurence Fish-burne—a nominee for his portrayal of Ike Turner in What's Love Got to Do with It?—gel his snappy tux? "Calvin called me up and I said, 'Yeah.' " (The white socks, presumably, were Fishburne's idea.)

King Armani, for his part, insists that the famous flocked to him. "It's a mutual exchange between grownup people who know what they like," he says. "And the fact that many of these people have chosen to wear my clothes? Why not? It's glorious!"

Of course all that seamless taste and good behavior do not necessarily come naturally. Observed Best Screenplay winner (for The Piano) Jane Campion, in black-and-white-striped pants and an oversize white shirt with a tux jacket: "It's so hard to make an effort to look glamorous. I'm just relieved this evening is over." And Fearless Rosie Perez—with her father Ismael Serrano as a date—knew she'd better not look as "outgoing as I usually do." She settled for a snug black-velvet Armani with a train, and she spoke, no doubt, for many of her fellow stars when she moaned at the end of the evening, "I'm dying to get out of this dress."

ELIZABETH GLEICK with bureau reports