Richard Buckley, a longtime magazine editor, was moved to dancing onstage as he presented an award to his husband, Tom Ford; Bethann Hardison, the veteran modeling agent and activist for diversity on the runways, danced after she received hers at the Council of Fashion Designers of America Fashion Awards on Monday night. But she also shed some tears. So did Naomi Campbell, Raf Simons, and the creative director Paul Cavaco.

It was an unusually emotional and weepy awards night at Alice Tully Hall in New York, but also one brimming with surprises, from Rihanna’s dazzling crystal fishnet gown and head scarf (even 216,000 Swarovski crystals could not hide her modesty from the glare of the photographer’s flashbulbs) to the triumph of fashion’s younger generation of designers—all but one of the six awards for designer of the year this year went to those who started their businesses within the last decade, completely shutting out fashion’s old guard. And there was also a blur of dinners and after parties to compete with the top 10 scene-stealing moments of the night.

1. Rihanna’s Dress (If You Could Call It That)

Expectations were high for Rihanna’s choice of designer to wear to receive an award for being a fashion icon, and she delivered in a retina-searing crystal curtain dress and matching scarf. As pictures all over Instagram showed, the dress became nearly invisible under the blinding lights, but in person, you didn’t notice her bare derriere so much as you had to look away from the glare. But it was a fabulous, custom creation by Adam Selman, her collaborator on her River Island collection and an up-and-comer with his own New York collection. What’s more was Rihanna’s fierce acceptance speech, in which she praised the power of fashion as a defense mechanism while growing up on Barbados. “Even as a child I remember thinking, she can beat me, but she cannot beat my outfit,” she said. “To this day, that is how I think about it. I can compensate for all my weaknesses with my fashion.”

2. Tom Ford’s Future Thinking

Ford won the CFDA’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and at age 52, he had reason to wonder if that wasn’t a bit of an insult. Is he over? Of course not, but just in case, his parting words: “Please have me back in another 25 years. I promise I’ll wear a toupee and walk with a cane.”

Tom FordGetty Images

3. “Dropping”

John Waters, as the evening’s host, teased his audience with an exceedingly gentle touch, following the route of his predecessors in political correctness, but his greatest subversive contribution to the night was the introduction of a new verb to the fashion lexicon, dropping. “Dropping is when you rescue the most stained, depressing object from a Goodwill donation box, like a ratty prom dress from the eighties, smuggle it into a high-end store like Hermès, put it on one of the hangers, sneak it into the window and run,” he said. “That’s fair game isn’t it?”

4. Most Glamorous Date You Might Have Missed

Blake Lively wasn’t a presenter, but she arrived with Michael Kors, wearing an adorably easy summer dress with a mini floral print by the designer, along with a headband. They threw out the black-tie dress code years ago.

Blake Lively and Michael KorsSplash News

5. Oddest Date You Might Have Missed

Accompanying Alexander Wang, Chris Kattan arrived dressed in character as Mango, the exotic dancer, supposedly to lighten things up. But he just sat there throughout the show, watching everyone else dance for a change.

6. Best Line from a Nonagenarian

On receiving an award for more than seven decades of service to the industry, Ruth Finley, the tireless organizer and scheduler-in-chief of the Fashion Calendar, glammed it up in a custom white suit by Carolina Herrera. She’s one of the few people who were around back when Eleanor Lambert started the CFDA 51 years ago, and she’s never lost her curiosity or sense of humor, staying out into the wee hours with all the young designers on Monday night. “Several people have asked me, when did you have your facelift?” she wise-cracked.

7. Most Emotional

Raf Simons couldn’t hold back tears as he accepted his award as the international designer, honored for his work at Dior, and managed to articulate the pressure designers must feel when standing on a stage in front of their peers. Last week, he was among the designers who sat on a jury for the LVMH Prize, grilling young candidates along with Karl Lagerfeld, Phoebe Philo, and Marc Jacobs. Now it was his turn on stage. “One of the candidates was saying I feel my heartbeat in my ears,” he said. “I feel mine in my tie now.”

8. Most Deserving

There were four standing ovations at the awards, but the longest and loudest went to Bethann Hardison, the modeling agent who has slapped some designer wrists over the persistent lack of diversity on their runways over the years. She’s had a major impact recently, and Naomi Campbell and Iman led a moving tribute that, in itself, should serve as a reminder to those designers in the room that beauty comes in all colors. “I’m not here to put anybody down,” Hardison said. “I’m here to bring everybody up.”

9. Oh, the After Parties

It’s a bit of a shame that the fashion crowd splits apart and heads in different directions right after the last award is handed out, because most people spend the rest of their nights looking on Instagram for where the action is. At a dinner for Hardison at Beautique, Tyson Beckford scanned a roomful of models and pulled out his phone. “Why didn’t we invite Rihanna?” he said. “I’m going to text her right now.” Meanwhile, Simons was downtown at Ladurée, where waiters served couture-gray macarons especially scented to resemble lily of the valley, a Dior flower signature. They tasted just like sugar.

10. And The Winners Are…

It’s a major changing of the guard in American fashion when the big winners are designers who you might not have known just a decade ago. The top prize for womenswear went to Joseph Altuzarra, who started his business just six years ago, and the men’s prize went to Public School designers Maxwell Osborne and Dao-Yi Chow, who founded their label in 2007. For accessories, the winners were Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, who started The Row in 2006. In the emerging talent category known as the Swarovski Awards, the prizes went to Creatures of the Wind for women’s, Tim Coppens for men’s, and Irene Neuwirth for accessories.

See what fashion’s biggest stars wore to the 2014 CFDA Awards in our gallery.