Here They Are Again, the World's Best-dressed Women—but Who Says So? and Why?

updated 02/28/1977 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/28/1977 AT 01:00 AM EST

The 12 Best-Dressed Women in the world were announced last week for the 37th consecutive year. The list always stirs debate on the choices. Ever wonder how those choices actually are made? How those dozen are anointed as best-dressed among the almost two billion women in the world? PEOPLE assistant editor Lee Wohlfert was on the committee that picked them this year, and her report follows:

We judges turned out to be a select group of seven women and one man assembled in fashion publicist Eleanor Lambert's Manhattan office for an hour and a half at lunchtime. As we nibbled sandwiches and chocolates, we whittled down the list Lambert had culled from suggestions sent in by fashion editors and "observers" all over the world.

It was clear that society and fashion columnist Eugenia Sheppard wielded the strongest influence, along with Baron Nicolas De Gunzburg, a former Vogue fashion editor. Nicky was the lone male. Eugenia is notoriously nearsighted (she often relies on photographers to tell her what people are wearing when she covers parties), but no matter. Lambert kept score for us, although not so efficiently that anyone knew whom we had actually voted for by the time we left.

Lena Home bit the dust early because she was old news, followed by Liza Minnelli ("She looks terrible"). Princess Caroline of Monaco, 1974's enfant star, was passed over again for appearing tacky. Ditto Marisa Berenson, whose inclusion last year was deemed a mistake. Designer Diane von Furstenberg got only low moans, as did Holly Harp—"part of the matte jersey Beverly Hills thing." (Designers aren't eligible anyway. There's a separate category for "professionals.")

Our job was not just to pick the terrific 12 but also to elevate a chosen few to the Fashion Hall of Fame. There are no clearcut rules, and Eugenia is often the arbiter. She works by divination: "Seems like they've been on the list so long they should be Hall of Fame." Bianca Jagger made it, along with two international socialites.

In past years there were complaints about the number of European titles. Thus several baronesses, countesses and marquesas toppled. The search was on for locals. Joanna Carson was mentioned, but no good; she and Johnny were said (erroneously) to be splitting. Ditto Charlotte Ford, not because of her marital problems but because she looks "not so good" in the line of clothes she is designing. Several regulars in the pages of Women's Wear Daily ate hot lead; among them Babe Paley's stepdaughter Hilary Byers for being "too limited," whatever that meant.

Hollywood was a never-ran. Faye Dunaway isn't seen enough in public these days, and a Cher suggestion was not even acknowledged. Everyone tried to get it up for Barbara Walters. No one could. ("She's depressed and it shows," Lambert explained later.) Mary Tyler Moore was suggested and everyone loved it, especially Eugenia, who had but one reservation. She'd never seen MTM and didn't know how she dressed. "Very American," she was assured. "Middle of the road, but very American." Eugenia assented. MTM was the coup of the day.

There was never a doubt about sculptor Louise Nevelson, 76. Stanley Marcus of Neiman-Marcus had suggested his 94-year-old mother, Minnie, as a well-dressed senior citizen. But we could have only one, and Nevelson was it. "She has a marvelous sense of style," observed the Mademoiselle rep.

Since 1976 was an election year, it seemed right to include a political name, but who? Mrs. Gerald Ford was disposed of instantly. She isn't First Lady and no one was obliged to pretend about her taste anymore. Barbara Howar was, it seems, just too boring to discuss. Ultimately it fell to Pamela Harriman. Nobody was quite sure what she was wearing recently, but it was felt she'd improved since her days of dressing, as Eugenia put it, "like a candy box."

Several women were discussed because they "spent a lot on clothes." No one was more serious about it than the Town & Country editor. She insisted Farah Diba, the Shah's wife, not be disqualified for wearing so many jewels—after all, the crown jewels are the basis for Iranian currency.

With the list now whittled to 25, we segued into the voting. Robert's Rules of Order it wasn't. If the group seemed generally enthusiastic about a name, and no one balked, she made the list. Those of us who had no idea who Jacqueline Machado-Macedo was, or what she wore, held our tongues. Countess Cicogna was suggested by Nicky and seconded by Eugenia, but she was disqualified next day for being a "professional fashion person." Her replacement, Lambert informed us by phone, was Lady Antonia Fraser, a name we had not discussed. "I've never seen her," said Lambert, but Antonia was supposed to be a kooky dresser.

One way to guarantee not making The List, it appears, is to want to be on it. "Too bad," explained Eugenia when the name of a stockbroker's wife came up. "Some people who should be on it can't because they try too hard." One lady sent her 90 postcards last year, each telling her what she wore that day.

What summed up the method of selection was Olimpia de Rothschild, a shoo-in for "really making the effort these days." No one knew if the Paris banker's wife spelled her name with a "y" or an "i," but rather than send someone to look it up we simply debated the issue for several minutes. It was finally decided "y" was correct. When the list went to press, that's how it appeared. We were wrong.

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