1 of 5
SOPHISTICATED LADY: VANESSA WILLIAMS
Vanessa Williams knows from scrutiny. Crowned the first black Miss America in 1984, she weathered the subsequent nude photos scandal with a poise that would become her trademark. Today she's a showbiz survivor with a Broadway, recording, film, and TV career, geniously capped by her tart role as editor of a fashion magazine on Ugly Betty. Riffling through a stack of photos dating back more than two decades, Williams savors the memories, pronouncing her '80s looks "right on trend," tracing her black matte hose and oversize jackets to her days as a dancer—even admitting she once swore by Norma Kamali shoulder pads. ("Norma's stuff is still great!") But now Williams is more likely to be found in what she calls an "ethnic-sophisticated" look involving oversize knits, her favorite Hudson wide-legged jeans ("like pajamas"), a classic black leather jacket she's worn for three years, plenty of bangles, blouses from Ann Taylor, and the multicolored scarves she picks up in her travels. On her, this look reads no less glamorous than an electric blue number by North Beach Leather she wore over 20 years ago—"everyone was wearing electric blue leather!" she insists—but it better suits her life as bicoastal television star and suburban mother of four. Williams says her current style also draws on knowing what works for her body: "I have kind of boy hips, broad shoulders," she explains, meaning loose works better than cinched—and comfort is her first priority. One of the best ways to achieve that, Williams has learned, is to invest in really great pieces she'll wear for years, or an expensive shoe that won't mangle her foot. Not that it's always about cost. She still wears leggings, for example: "If my legs are in good shape, hell, yes!"