04/21/1998 AT 12:00 AM EDT
Preparing for her much anticipated ascendance to the Oscar throne, Julia Roberts sought counsel from the unlikeliest of experts: her 10-year-old niece Emma, reports PEOPLE in its latest cover story. Presented with Roberts's potential frock of choice -- a vintage ('82) black-velvet Valentino couture -- the precocious adviser feared that the TV audience wouldn't see the gown's striped back. "She said, 'Aunt Julia, that dress is nice, but if you win, what are you going to do?' " recalled Roberts, turning backward to display the dress in all its glory and throwing a practice grin over her right shoulder. " 'This?' " Yes, that. Flashing her trademark smile, Roberts took home the Best Actress Oscar (for Erin Brockovich) at the 73rd Annual Academy Awards and won over hundreds of millions of viewers worldwide with her giddy, giggly "I love the world!" acceptance speech. Well, maybe not all of them, the magazine suspects. The actress's self-created splendor last Sunday couldn't have sat too well with Hollywood's professional stylists, who for years have been paid big bucks to micromanage the stars to red-carpet-ready perfection. Especially galling must have been the fact that Roberts wasn't alone. Others who went stylist-less: Sigourney Weaver (in Galliano for Dior), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Atelier Versace) and Russell Crowe (Armani).