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LOS ANGELES — Have celebrities finally mastered the art of dressing up? Fashion don’ts usually run rampant at the Emmy Awards, but celebrants at Sunday night’s 56th installment of the biggest awards night for television stars couldn’t help but notice how good they all looked.

“So many women looked gorgeous!” gushed Sarah Jessica Parker, who finally scored an Emmy after five years of nominations. “They looked like they were wearing the clothes — the clothes weren’t wearing them,” she continued, poaching a famous quip from Coco Chanel — fitting, since Parker turned out for the second straight year clad in Chanel Couture.

Coincidence? “I would never pick a favorite designer,” she declared, insisting the choice of dress, not designer, was that of her husband’s, Matthew Broderick. “What do you think I am? Mad? It’s like fashion suicide!”

Instances of death by dress were fewer than seasons past, be it because of savvy or safety. Even the daring choice to go green, repeated several times in variegated hues, worked. Best actress winner Allison Janney, in a goddess Monique Lhuillier gown, even joked on camera about the same shade of bright green she shared with fellow nom Mariska Hartigay, in Vera Wang, when she asked her to join her on stage.

“Sopranos” daughter Jamie-Lynn DiScala also arrived in a Lhuillier, in sage satin charmeuse. The designer, in fact, dressed the most stars Sunday night — four. (And that following a busy Saturday when she had an altar-bound Britney Spears and her bridesmaid to tend to.)

Glenn Close looked her best in a nude Oscar de la Renta, whom Jennifer Garner also went with for an entirely different effect. The “Alias” star plucked her white, laser-cut lace ball gown, cinched at the waist with a black velvet ribbon, right off last week’s runway in New York. Teri Hatcher was also one of the few who went black and white — a dramatic, hand-painted Elie Saab Couture gown — during an evening otherwise colored in bold brights.

This story first appeared in the September 21, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Even those who tend to live in sneakers and slacks looked forward to this night to dress up. “You know, I only get to do this a couple of times a year. I do like to break out in a suit every once in a while,” said Ellen DeGeneres, who turned out in an undone Viktor & Rolf tux, while gal pal Alexandra Hedison appeared on her arm in a black lace and nude gown by the Dutch duo.

Laura Linney wasn’t shy about naming favorites: “If I can, I’ll always wear Prada.” Likewise, Gabrielle Union had her own fail-safe: “Armani keeps you off of the ‘When bad clothes happen to good people’ list. I’m from Omaha, Nebraska, honey. I can’t be doing too much crazy business out there.”

Even newcomer Mischa Barton wasn’t about to go too out there. She wore a gold-beaded, Twenties-style Maggie Norris sheath. “I chose it because it’s really individual and comfortable — and I didn’t want something that was too dangerous to wear.”

“Cold Case’s” Kathryn Morris, in a tangerine Carmen Marc Valvo, offered some practical advice. “Put it this way, I think a dress is a mistake if you’re worried about your dress falling down. But you’ve got to fend for yourself out there,” she said, while glancing back to check her chiffon train. “Men who played basketball this morning think they’re still on the court,” she tisked.

Apparently, so did a few women. “Miss? Miss! Can you please get off my train?” pleaded Kristin Davis, shrink-wrapped in a Prada black lace bustier dress, to one guest while trying to pose on the red carpet.

Drea de Matteo, who spent four hours each day transforming into her “Sopranos” character, wanted to go a little lower-maintenance to the Emmys. Her black and gold-trimmed vintage gown came from The Paper Bag Princess in West Hollywood. “I wanted to wear something that kept me covered up so I didn’t have to worry about saggy boobs or shaving my legs,” she said.

It was a good thing, since Patricia Heaton spent the better part of her evening eyeballing the toned physiques. “Heather Locklear, Sharon Stone, Jennifer Aniston. Wow! I mean, where do these women come from? I’m looking past the dresses right now. I want their bodies.”

Heaton, draped in striking, rainbow-striped Elie Saab Couture, was just eager to leave behind the jeans-and-sweater sets for a night. “When you play a housewife on television, it’s nice to be able to splash out once a year. I just go for it.”

As usual, several husbands waited patiently on the sidelines while the flashbulbs popped, including Brad Pitt, who apparently understood his place for the evening. “I’m just an accessory,” he grinned.

While the typically marathon show ended after the scheduled three hours, Cheryl Hines, in an icy blue-beaded Norma Lenain, couldn’t wait to hit the after-party circuit as she entered the HBO fete at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood: “Where can I find a drink and a sandwich?”

Over at Fox’s bash at Spago in Beverly Hills, Ron Howard, jubilant from the best comedy win for his show “Arrested Development,” couldn’t agree more: “I’ve been to so many award shows in my life that you’d think by now I would’ve learned to pack a snack.”

Attendees had their pick of parties, with TV Guide, Entertainment Tonight, People, Showtime and “The West Wing” all hosting bashes around town. Not surprisingly, Stone and Diana Ross did the rounds, swooping in and out with only time for a spattering of air kisses.

Throughout the evening, young nominee Amber Tamblyn couldn’t stop checking her cell phone. Along with Edie Falco, Tamblyn hailed the return of Randolph Duke to the red carpet. The designer also served as a commentator for ABC.

“My friends have been text messaging me all night telling me, ‘Oh my God, [the media] loves your dress!’” she cried. “I was just happy it fit.”