Sure, the dress is a big deal, but the total look is incomplete without the right hairstyle, lipstick color and oh-so-long lashes. And the wrong makeup drags down a dress.
Gwyneth Paltrow was the Oscar belle of the ball back in 1999 in her pink Ralph Lauren dress that, quite frankly, didn't fit her very well, but you hardly noticed with her princess-style bun and fresh-faced makeup. She didn't fare as well a few years later in the Goth dress by Alexander McQueen - yet it's those raccoon eyes that really linger in our collective memories.
Increasingly, stars know how important the total look is and they'll book their beauty team for an event weeks in advance. The challenge for the beauty team, though, is that the dress is often a last-minute choice so they show up with the tools to do retro-glam, smoky-sexy or cutting edge-cool styles with a few strokes of their brushes.
Two experts - hairstylist Oscar Blandi, who has his own salon on Madison Avenue, and Ricky Wilson, celebrity makeup artist for Dior - were asked to craft beauty routines that would capture the striking Golden Globe looks of Emily Blunt and January Jones.
Both these looks, while very Hollywood, can be appropriate for a cocktail party, maybe even a dinner date, says Wilson.
Blunt's feminine look, complemented by a soft-pink, delicate gown by Dolce & Gabbana, started with flawless skin, says Wilson. "You want to look really beautiful, natural - like I woke up and look this great. Of course, it can take a lot of work."
Wilson, who counts Beyonce and Sharon Stone as clients, starts with a radiance serum to brighten and smooth the skin and then a breathable foundation to even out the tone. He uses a brush to apply everything because, although fingers are a little more agile, a brush has a light touch and can get into fine lines.
For the eyes, Wilson uses a light, buttery - but not opaque - shade of white to be used from crease to brow bone, followed by a lavender-gray shade on the lid only. It'll open up the eye, he explains, which will be further enhanced by dabbing a little light shimmer right at the inside corner of the eye.
Then comes the black eyeliner, not applied in one straight line but using many short strokes along both the upper and lower lashline, and then several coats of black mascara, letting the layers dry before applying the next one.
Dewy lips come with an application of lip balm with the fingers, creating a smooth surface before the lipstick goes on. "It's like a slip," Wilson says.
Blandi also says Blunt's oh-so-natural look for her hair has many more steps than you'd think, yet isn't hard to do.
Hair preparation is the key, he says, by blow drying the hair without ever pulling it tight (and using a diffuser instead of straight-on heat) and taming flyaways with jasmine oil.
"This is a sexy approach. It's 'bedroom hair,'" describes Blandi, who works with Jennifer Garner, Katie Holmes and Julianne Moore, among other celebrities. He thinks it was the right look for Blunt because the dress didn't have a lot of bells and whistles. "If your dress is simple, amplify the hair and makeup, and vice versa."
Blandi then uses the curling iron, alternating the position of the cord with each section of hair: If one curl, held for 10-15 seconds, is done with the cord facing upward vertically, the next one has the cord facing downward.
He saves the crown for last, only working with the cord facing down and loosening up on the curl.
His tip to at-home stylists: You should take smaller chunks of hair in the curling iron. Use your fingers to tousle the hair; a brush would undo the work you just did. A cool, quick blow-dry on medium speed - again with the diffuser - will set the style.
"The best part of this look is it looks better later on," Blandi says.
Jones' dramatic, asymmetric black Lanvin dress, which made sure she wouldn't be confused with Betty Draper, required equally striking makeup and hair.
Pulling together the bottom half of the hair into a pony tail - save a little strip of hair that will later be used to hide a rubber band - Blandi teases with a brush already spritzed with hairspray to teach the crown of the hair. He secures the top with bobby pins in the middle of the back of the head.
Then he teases the pony tail so the hair has a lot of body before he swirls it into a loose bun.
The position of the bun at the nape of the neck is important with the most flattering spot matching the jawline, Blandi says. He takes the last hanging strip of hair and camouflages the rubber hand and tucks the end into the chignon.
He uses bobby pins to keep the bun in place.
Jones wore a stretchy black headband to add to the drama - and it's easy to find a similar one at a mass-market store.
Blandi positioned the bottom back of the band below the bun and stretched the rest to land just behind the ears and about a half-inch above the hairline in the front. The slightly pouffy top gives height behind the headband.
A lot of hairspray is the final step for the hair.
Wilson takes over the modern pinup look with just a little powder on the T-zone and matte bronzer to sculpt the cheeks but not much else on the skin so it won't distract from the very black eyelashes and red lips he plans.
With his finger, he applies a light beige powder eye shadow under the brow, pressing it in so it doesn't "drip," and then a lighter champagne-colored shadow on the lid. A brown shadow goes on the crease from the outside edge of the eye to about two-thirds in.
He uses an eyelash curler before he applies no fewer than three coats of mascara. (If you get mascara on the lid, wait until it dries before you gently scratch it off with a cotton swab to avoid smudging, he advises.)
To create a clean backdrop for the red lips, Wilson uses a little more light powder on the bow between the mouth and nose, and then he uses a cherry red lip pencil to create the boundaries for the lipstick.
After you've found - and put on - the right red, Wilson cleans up the edges with a bit of concealer on a makeup sponge. Because of the bold color, a neat, perfect application can make the difference, he says.
OK, so the lip is really bold and you're worried about it. It probably looks great, Wilson says, but a touch of shimmery gloss just at the center of the top and bottom lip should alleviate any apprehension.
He adds: "The celebrity look can push women out of their regular box, which is where they should be for special events."