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We know the Emmy Awards got its fashion act together over the last few years as stars began wearing Oscars-level couture and custom-made gowns, but this year’s event on Monday night was noteworthy for another reason: Bringing back the sex appeal. Cutouts, lace details, and a few dramatic backless looks added a rare touch of raciness to the red carpet, but not the obvious kind that makes most of us blush, like, say, at the Video Music Awards. OK, so maybe Sofia Vergara didn’t get the message about displaying one’s assets, but maybe that’s because all those red dresses had everyone’s hearts racing so fast. So who was best dressed?

Here’s my countdown:

10. January Jones in Prabal Gurung
Messy updo? Check. Strapless? Check. Red? Big check. Jones may profess to be a fashion amateur, but really, it takes a pro to manage a glamorous, sweeping ballgown without looking like a throwback.

january-jonesJOHN SHEARER/INVISION FOR THE TELEVISION ACADEMY/AP IMAGES

9. Julianna Margulies in Narciso Rodriguez
As Margulies said while accepting her best actress award, “What a wonderful time for women on television.” And I’ll add on the red carpet. The message of the Emmys: Plain old black is too easy, so take a cue from Margulies in this custom crystal embroidered dress that offers a refreshing take on ombre. Plus, its sleek, swimsuit-inspired back is divine.

julianna-marguiliesJason LaVeris/FilmMagic

8. Laverne Cox in Marc Bouwer
Remember the silk scarf dress Angelina Jolie wore to the Oscars in 2004? One of the sexiest dresses of all time was designed by Marc Bouwer, and a decade later, he’s still got more tricks for creating fashion stars, and also for turning a halter into something completely alluring.

laverne-coxSTEVE GRANITZ/ WIREIMAGE

7. Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Carolina Herrera
Speaking of red, and also inventive halters, here’s a custom dress that combines both the Emmys trends in a single look with a twisted neckline held up by a leather strap that criss-crosses in the back.

julia-louis-dreyfusJOHN SHEARER/INVISION FOR THE TELEVISION ACADEMY/AP IMAGES

6. Lena Dunham in Giambattista Valli Couture
Easily the most polarizing look of the night, and possibly the biggest risk, Dunham’s tiered skirt and cap-sleeved blouse somehow works. Maybe it’s the way the colors lighten to match her newly blond hair, but more likely, it just looks like Dunham is having fun.

lena-dunhamJOHN SHEARER/INVISION FOR THE TELEVISION ACADEMY/AP IMAGES

5. Sarah Paulson in Armani Privé
Such a phenomenal look, like a dark cloud of tulle sprinkled with drops of red, this is the kind of dress that resembles fireworks against the night sky.

sarah-paulsonJASON MERRITT/GETTY IMAGES

4. Julia Roberts in Elie Saab
Never one to follow trends, Roberts strikes again in the unexpected. Also, legs. What are those again?

julia-robertsJASON MERRITT/GETTY IMAGES

3. Lizzy Caplan in Donna Karan
The tightly fitting bodice, another example as sleek as a swimsuit, is the perfect contrast to the long train of the skirt, further highlighted by the black and white combo of silk gazar and sheer organza.

lizzy-caplanSTEVE GRANITZ/ WIREIMAGE

2. Robin Wright in Ralph Lauren
The runner-up color of the night? White. And the winner in that category was undoubtedly Wright. A cream silk cady tuxedo jumpsuit with grosgrain lapels is one thing, but make it backless, and it’s just right.

robin-wrightDan Steinberg/Invision/AP Images

1. Claire Danes in Givenchy
Want to embrace the cutout trend without looking like a pop star? Take this example, with a broad panel of lace that covers the back and extends to cutouts on the sides. Plus, it’s just the right shade for the night. As Danes said, “I’m glad to be part of the red posse.”

For real-time insider insights, make sure to follow Eric Wilson on Twitter (@EricWilsonSays) and see all of the celebs who stepped out at the Emmys red carpet in our gallery.