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Getting dressed for the Oscars

By Danielle Paquette, Special to CNN
Stylist Nicole Chavez helped Scarlett Johansson pick a shimmery Elie Saab gown for the Golden Globe Awards in January.
Stylist Nicole Chavez helped Scarlett Johansson pick a shimmery Elie Saab gown for the Golden Globe Awards in January.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Behind the scenes, stylists help celebrities prepare for award shows
  • Stylist Nicole Chavez says Oscar dresses can be worth "tens of thousands of dollars"
  • After the show, dresses are typically returned, kept by the wearer or auctioned for charity
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The countdown to Hollywood's biggest night is on. Join "Showbiz Tonight's" A.J. Hammer and Brooke Anderson for live red carpet access at the Oscars on "Road to Gold" this Sunday at 7 p.m. ET on CNN.

(CNN) -- Less than a week before The Academy Awards, Scarlett Johansson had yet to make a starlet's most scrutinized fashion decision: Her Oscar dress.

Her stylist, the renowned celebrity dresser Nicole Chavez, wasn't worried. Tight deadlines are as common as paparazzi in this industry.

"What it comes down to is -- may the best dress win," said Chavez, whose clients include Rachel Bilson, Kristen Bell and Katherine Heigl. "I stay organized and maintain close relationships with designers and colleagues, so it's more fun than stressful."

Johansson, who was asked to present an Oscar two weeks ago, was measured for a gown four days before the event. Chavez, who researches styles from around the globe, asked: What silhouette? What color? What designer?

"My goal was to make her feel beautiful, happy and comfortable," she said. "Find the perfect fit."

Award show culture demands uber-chic attendees, said Chavez. Resplendent, cutting-edge garbs are expected, or style-driven media like E!'s Fashion Police assault a celebrity's outfit with snarky quips.

"Just because she likes rainbow sherbet doesn't mean she has to dress like one," Joan Rivers said of actress Hailee Steinfeld's dress after the Screen Actors Guild awards in January. "I mean, I don't dress like Metamucil and prunes."

Chavez strives to keep her clients off the "Worst Dressed" lists.

Even with the pressure of the world watching, she said the "getting ready" process before the annual show is lighthearted.

Johansson, who prefers the designs of Elie Saab, Dolce & Gabbana and Oscar de la Renta, will likely be surrounded by friends and family, sipping wine and taking pictures.

Chavez, like a close girlfriend, will zip her flowing, complicated gown and arrange matching accessories.

"It's comparable to a wedding day," she said. "Everyone will just be having a good time."

After the Oscars, the fate of an actress' attire is often similar to a bride's wedding dress: never to be worn again.

Some custom-made styles worth "tens of thousands of dollars" are returned to designers the next morning, Chavez said.

But 80% of the time, her clients get to keep the dress.

"After the designers make something so special for an actress, they 'gift' the dresses," she said. "The dresses get so much press, so who could really wear them again?"

After a dress is gifted, some celebrities donate their famous threads to charity auctions.

Clothes Off Our Backs in Universal City, California, raises money from celebrity goods to benefit Feeding America, a hunger-relief effort; Malaria No More, an organization determined to end malaria deaths in Africa by 2015; Hope North, a boarding school for escaped child soldiers and more.

Chavez said there is endless action behind the scenes before and after award shows.

"I feel lucky to put together living, breathing art," she said. "Dressing clients for the Oscars is an honor."

As for what Johansson will wear?

"Well, we can never say for sure until the actual show," Shavez said. "So, we'll see on Sunday!"

For those watching the Academy Awards from home, the celebrity stylist shares five tips for everyday glamour:

1. Invest in proper undergarments.

"No matter what size or shape you are, Spanx is your best friend."

2. Find a great tailor.

"Very few things fit perfect off the rack and tailoring makes all the difference. It can make a $70 white button down from the Gap look like a $400 dollar fitted Prada shirt."

3. Take a digital photo of yourself in the mirror before going out.

"You will be shocked to see what the naked eye doesn't! Black fabric is see-through when a camera flash hits it. No one wants their bra showing in family photos."

4. Be prepared for mini fashion emergencies.

"I always carry a needle and thread kit, double-side tape and safety pins in my purse. You never know when you or a friend will be stranded."

5. Be confident!

"When you love the way you look, it translates and people take notice. Fashion is an extension of your personality so have fun and stay true to yourself."