By Lindzi Scharf
September 20, 2012 at 08:15 PM EDT
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images (3)

It’s no secret that in today’s red carpet landscape, behind every great actress is a great stylist. With the surge of fashion blogs, weekly worst dressed features and “who wore it better” polls, you’d be hard pressed to find a star who prefers to go it alone.

So what really goes on behind-the-scenes during awards season? 

“I think most people would be surprised at how hard the process of finding Emmy gowns is,” says stylist Tara Swennen, who was tasked with finding gowns for Modern Family’s Julie Bowen, American Horror Story’s Connie Britton and The Big Bang Theory’s Kaley Cuoco to wear to this Sunday’s Emmy Awards.

“Everyone is clamoring for the same gowns, designers are stressed with Fashion Week, among other things, and we are all working around demanding shooting schedules,” says Swennen, who got her start assisting celebrity stylist Rachel Zoe and now counts Kristen Stewart among her high profile clients.

With all the competition, how does Swennen make sure each client always gets her gown?

“I like to do my fittings super early. It’s a tactical maneuver to get the best dresses for my girls while they are still available, and we all enjoy not having to stress about anything as the date draws closer,” she says. “I generally pick specific looks for each girl from the shows, commercial pieces, and archives. I also determine [which designers are] interested in collaborating [to create a custom dress], then round up as many looks and sketches as I can so [my clients] have a great selection to choose from.”

There’s usually a payoff for all of Swennen’s prep work. “Generally we find ‘the one’ almost immediately. The second fitting we use to finalize the accessories and ensure the fit of the dress is perfect,” she explains.

And she’s always prepared with a backup plan just in case.

In 2010, Modern Family‘s Bowen hinted that she’d lost out on the opportunity to wear a particular designer’s gown to the Emmys because she wasn’t “famous enough to wait until the last minute” to make a decision. As much as she works with her clients to plan ahead, Swennen says that their willingness to take a few fashion risks is also important.

“I do encourage [my clients] to try different looks and keep an open mind because you never know when you’ll try on that one dress that is truly lighting in a bottle. It might be a dress you normally wouldn’t consider,” she says. “[However,] I always want my girls to feel their best on the carpet, so I will push them only as far as they are comfortable.”

Finding the perfect gown is one thing, getting down the red carpet without a major wardrobe malfunction is another. Here are Swennen’s three secret style weapons:

1. Topstick

Originally used to hold wigs in place, this tape adheres to clothing and skin to help prevent the kind of “unwanted fabric movement” that can lead to exposed bra straps — or body parts.

2. Underarm sweat pads

Adhesive shields that keep garments dry and stain-free.

3. Spanx

Smooth, shape and, along with a built-in lining, help prevent overexposure when wearing a garment made from a sheer fabric.

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