Melissa Rivers on How to Make the Best-Dressed List

Through countless interviews on the red carpet—and many life experiences off of it—Melissa Rivers learned how to shine in the spotlight. Here, she shares how you can shine during your wedding, the big interview, or your own “Red Carpet” moment:

Like it or not, people are going to judge you by how you put yourself together. You might be incredibly qualified for a job, but if you show up for the interview wearing shorts and flip-flops while every other woman is wearing Ralph Lauren, you’re going to be collecting unemployment for a while.

I was at a party not long ago and I met a woman whose family is worth billions. But she attended the extremely dressy event wearing shoes that were beat-up and unkempt. All I could think was, “She’s too successful to be doing that!” It made me question her attitude and her respect for the other people at the party. She may not have deserved that, but it was natural to look for clues to who she was in what she wore. So give yourself permission to be shallow. Shallow, to paraphrase Gordon Gekko, is good. Some wisdom from the shallow end:

• Don’t let the dress wear you. No matter how great a dress looks on the rack, no matter how much you love the designer, no matter how many other people tell you that you look smashing in it, if you don’t feel beautiful in something, don’t wear it. I’ve seen so many gorgeous women walk down the red carpet looking tragic because they were in dresses they knew they didn’t belong in. Even if the dress and the woman are stunning separately, the combination can be just the opposite. When you know an outfit isn’t right for you, it’s impossible to carry yourself with the confidence that makes you truly gorgeous. You look self-conscious, and everybody knows it.

I am a shameless label whore. When I see a Dolce & Gabbana or Gucci gown on my rack, I automatically want it. I’m drawn to dresses that are bad for me in the same way some women are drawn to tattooed bikers on parole. My stylists, God bless them, have to hide them from me like you hide booze from someone going to AA meetings.

One year, I fell head over heels in love with the wrong dress. My eyes met the dress’s stitches from across a crowded showroom and I was smitten. It flirted with me from its hanger. I sidled up to it and we talked about long walks on the runway together. I tried it on and it fit like it had been made for me.

On Oscar day I slid my beloved on my body . . . and began to itch. Not right away, when I could have done something about it, but when I was ready to go on camera and it was too late to change. Turns out that the dress was beaded but hadn’t been lined. The edges of the beads were scratching my skin, and by the end of the night the area where my arms rubbed against the dress looked like a combination of road rash and rare hamburger. If you saw the Oscar pre-show that year, you might have wondered why I was moving so stiffly. I was trying to minimize the excruciating friction between the dress and my skin. Talk about uncomfortable in my own skin!

By 2003, I had learned my lesson. I put on my dress on Golden Globes morning and it still didn’t fit, even after alterations. In a panic, I pulled out an old Pamela Dennis long satin skirt and a Dolce & Gabbana top I had gotten from a photo shoot three years before, and voilà. That year, everyone commented on how great I looked. Why? Because I looked like me. I really liked what I was wearing and knew it made me look good. People felt my confidence.

• Weep once; buy quality. There’s a pair of suede boots I’ve had for seven years and absolutely love. Each winter I take them to a shoe- repair shop and have the soles and heels repaired. They cost a small fortune, but I’ve gotten more wear out of them than any footwear I’ve ever owned. If you can, spend money on quality where quality is essential: a classic black cocktail dress, your shoes, cosmetics. My uncle always said, “Buy quality and weep once.” That means the price might be a shock to your credit card, but you won’t suffer the extra pain of having to replace what you bought in a year because you went cheap. There’s nothing wrong with saving money, and it’s not a bad idea to bargain- hunt for something you’re going to wear only a few times, but you’ll never go wrong spending on quality for the go- to items in your wardrobe.

• Know your critical detail and attend to it. God is in the details. I have to do my fingernails and toenails before I go out or I feel slovenly. Everyone has her critical detail that simply has to get done before she’ll feel like she’s put together. Know what your detail is and take it up a notch for big events. As my mother likes to say, “Go in with all your flags flying.”

• Take care of your shoes. Nothing ruins your puttogether look like shoes that are battered, scuffed, or just oldlooking. It’s so easy to clean and polish any decent pair of shoes that I’m amazed more women don’t take the time. If you seriously don’t have the time, find a shoe- repair shop that can give your footwear a quick once- over before you go out.

• Test- drive your haircut. Why wait until the day of a Red Carpet Moment to see if your hairstyle is going to be a hit or a miss? A date or a job interview is no different from a trip down the red carpet on awards night: Leave nothing to chance. If you’re going to try a daring new cut, test it out a few weeks beforehand. That way, if what looked so good in the salon turns out in daylight to look like a dead cat sitting on your head, you have some time to make changes.

• Make important changes before panic time. Don’t wait until two weeks before your red carpet event to try to lose those last five pounds. They’re not going to come off, and you’re going to stress yourself out so badly trying to diet and sweat them off that you’ll add another pound in new acne. Instead, prepare for the spotlight months in advance with a healthy lifestyle: good diet, exercise routine, skin care, and so on. That way, you can approach your Red Carpet Moment knowing that you look healthy and radiant, and you’ll have the confidence that comes with knowing you’re as prepared as you can be.

• Flaunt what you’ve got. There are some women who look good in just about anything: Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron, Hilary Swank, Jennifer Garner, Cate Blanchett, Catherine Zeta- Jones. I’ve interviewed them and their energy is as sparkling as their fashion. They know exactly how to dress to complement what God gave them— and God gave them quite a lot.

Most of us aren’t so lucky. We have to dance with the body that brung us. Everybody has something about them that’s exceptional. Figure out what that is for you and work it. If you have a great chest, show some skin. If you’re too shy to let your décolletage come out to play, show off your arms or back. If you have great legs, flash them. If you want to wear a higher neck, wear a shorter skirt.

Of course, this goes far beyond clothes. Maybe you’re a terrific conversationalist, have a knack with a joke, have musical talent, or you just make other people feel good about themselves. Bring what’s extraordinary about you out for others to appreciate it. As they do, you’ll be able to appreciate it more, too.

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