Vergara wore a teal gown by Zuhair Murad with beads all over and a cutout reverse halter neckline, and Klum chose a seafoam-colored gown by Alexandre Vauthier with plunging Vs from every angle on the top and super-high slits that left very little in the middle.
They helped fuel the trend toward bright, bold colour that was also worn by pregnant Claire Danes in strapless daffodil-yellow Lanvin, Julianne Moore in a long-sleeve, stretchy gown by Raf Simons for Christian Dior and Nicole Kidman in a blue-on-white-beaded gown by Antonio Berardi. All brought bona fide fashion credibility to the Nokia Theatre, even if they weren't necessarily the favourites.
Hayden Panettiere plucked her sari-style Marchesa straight from the runway, and Ginnifer Goodwin's flame-red-on-sheer-champagne strapless gown by Monique Lhuillier announced there's a new generation of style stars to reckon with.
Goodwin "went out on a limb — and it could have gone wrong — but it was great," said Stacy London, co-host of TLC's "What Not to Wear" and co-founder of Style for Hire, a personal fashion service. "It had the biggest impact on me."
Lhuillier had a banner night with Julie Bowen's strapless, trumpet-hem gown and Padma Lakshmi's orange strapless dress.
Goodwin and Klum also were early favourites of Louise Roe, Glamour editor-at-large and "Fashion Star" host. She wasn't crazy about Elisabeth Moss' printed, peplumed Dolce & Gabbana gown, which she said had a little too much "fussy detail."
And, Roe said, Emily VanCamp could have gone edgier than her still-lovely J. Mendel gown with pleats and hints of sexy sheer fabric. "She's young and has a killer body — she could have played around a bit more."
Hal Rubenstein of InStyle magazine, however, saw the beauty of VanCamp's gown up close and — like Moore's gown, which was Simons' red-carpet debut for Dior — needed to be appreciated for the details. "Julianne's will be the one to remember," he said. "It's a lot — and it's a blazing, flaming colour — but if you saw the dress, the construction was extraordinary."
Moore said before the show: "I love the colour. It's so fresh."
It didn't hurt that she also got to wear European-cut diamond earrings, weighing in at 5 carats each, and an 8.5-carat Art Deco bracelet — both by Fred Leighton.
Vergara's gown was over the top and not as sophisticated as some of her earlier red-carpet looks, but she has mastered a va-va-voom character and she consistently gives the audience what they want, the experts said. "If Sofia Vergara showed up in a tuxedo or a boatneck gown in sable brown, you'd be furious," Rubenstein said.
When stars go for gowns that they seem more comfortable in, which is itself a trend, they look better, Rubenstein explained. Julianna Margulies is someone who always owns her dress and the Giambattista Valli strapless brocade floral fell into her pattern of making fashionable choices.
London felt the same way about Julia Louis-Dreyfus and her dark red, ruched and draped Vera Wang that she paired with Irene Neuwirth's one-of-a kind black opal and rose-cut diamond earrings set with turquoise. "She can show the little girls how to do it. She's nuanced and talented. You never feel like her acting and you always like her, and I feel that way about her dress choices."
There was plenty of red to go with the carpet, including a cleavage-baring Kat Dennings of "2 Broke Girls" in J. Mendel and Tina Fey, who has mastered the awards-show look as she nears the end of the run of "30 Rock," in a dark red strapless with gold bust details by Vivienne Westwood.
It was good to see some unexpected red-carpet players such as Westwood, who also dressed Kerry Washington; Andrew Gn who designed Connie Britton's silver halter; and even Jason Wu on Jessica Pare. Wu designed Michelle Obama's famous inaugural gown but isn't consistent on the red carpet.
One of Mrs. Obama's other favourites, Naeem Khan, scored with a bare, beaded halter gown with orange ballskirt worn by Leslie Mann.
Other impressive Emmys veterans were Amy Poehler, in a beaded, V-neck halter, and Edie Falco, whose navy-in-front, white-in-back gown was made a little sexier with sheer strips on the bodice. "Edie Falco looks 10 years younger from the last time I saw her," London said.
Zooey Deschanel played to her funny-girl, vintage-style, kooky-sexy character in an ice blue strapless gown by Reem Acra that had a poufy full skirt made of tiers of sharply cut tulle layers. She had a manicure with little TV sets on her thumbnails — perhaps the kind of thing "E!" had in mind for its mani-cam that had stars walking their fingers down a tiny red carpet.
Kiernan Shipka, the young star of "Mad Men" who wore a Zac Posen duchess satin party dress — sounded like the fashionista she's become when she said, "I love the silhouette." Her co-star January Jones wore a Posen gown that tapped into the runway trend of a complicated harness bodice and Christina Hendricks wore a belted metallic strapless by Christian Siriano.
London gave credit to Lucy Liu to pulling off a heavy metallic mesh gown by Versace. She made it look fairly effortless, London said.
She did not, however, love Kristen Wiig's "sensible shoes" that went with her Balenciaga lingerie-style lace dress. "You get to wear sensible shoes every other day. This isn't the day."
AP Writer Beth Harris contributed to this report.
Samantha Critchell tweets fashion at (at)AP_Fashion.Suggest a correction