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Does it pay to take chances?

That question comes to mind in the hazy morning-after replay of Sunday night’s Golden Globes ceremony, one of the most gratifyingly daring in recent memory when it came to the gowns on display. We’ve all been starved for signs of fashion independence among Hollywood stars, but who can blame them for conforming when the critics’ knives are so sharp?

So those who broke the rules this year deserve extra applause for doing so, especially for choices that would inevitably lead to a few slings and arrows, and here I’m talking about the Dolce & Gabbana shirt/gown hybrid worn by Julia Roberts or Jennifer Lawrence’s white Dior gown with black bands. Both were dresses I happened to like a lot — Julia’s because she looked comfortable and classy; Jennifer’s because her relationship with Dior is creating one of the most fascinating collaborations between a designer and actor in red carpet history. Yet the banded gown was so unconventional it inspired parodies overnight, with people dressing their cats and dogs in white bed sheets.

Raf Simons, the Dior designer, does not design with the red carpet foremost in mind, but he recognizes the need for women to feel beautiful and comfortable in their clothes, and that the actors he dresses represent a new sensibility of dressing for the world to see. Lawrence was that. And surely, with her sense of humor, she appreciates a good dress joke.

In most cases, the answer to the night’s question about taking chances was a resounding yes, which is promising news for what we might expect to see at the Oscars as well. There were interesting shapes and trends, notably the covered shoulders on many dresses (Bérénice Béjo in Giambattista Valli, Cate Blanchett in Armani Privé) and the undisputed color choice of the night, a brilliant red that reminded us of the importance of the carpet underneath everyone’s feet (soiled though it might have been this year by that unfortunate sewage break).

The Golden Globes are becoming ever more important for designers, so there was a sense of their staking territory among the newly minted style stars. I’m thinking of Emma Watson in a backless red dress with smart black pants underneath (also Dior), and Emilia Clarke, in her silvery textural strapless gown from Proenza Schouler, one of the highlights of the night.

Lupita Nyong’o, who has quickly become a fashion favorite during the smaller lead-up events, took her place on the world stage in a red silk cady Ralph Lauren gown that, with its floor-sweeping cape, was anything but a safe choice. And that moment will be remembered as one of the greatest Globes debuts of all time.

Check out InStyle Fashion News Director Eric Wilson’s top 10 best-dressed ladies at the 2014 Golden Globes.

See the top 10

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