Welcome to the behind-the-scenes business of Emmys fashion. And it is definitely a business, a lucrative one, not just fodder for insipid E! hosts and Joan Rivers to praise or pan as TV’s finest parade down the Nokia Red Carpet from 3 PM to 5 PM today. All the fashion designers, stylists, retailers, jewelers, publicists, on-camera talking heads, and bloggers know that these TV awards involve big stakes and big bucks. Style over content? In this venue, style is the content. Unfortunately, the Emmys don’t rate with the major design houses the way that the Globes and Oscars do. Over and over, stylists tell me off the record that the Emmys are “maybe slightly below B-list” in the Red Carpet sweepstakes.

The reasons are myriad. August is a tricky fashion time of year: new Spring dresses haven’t been shown yet, and last season’s Fall dresses are yesterday’s news. Also, celebs going to the Emmys have to streamline to stay cool so they avoid a ton of beads and yards of fabrics. Where’s the show in that?  Especially for a U.S. awards telecast not aired around the globe. The European fashion houses like the rest of the continent refuse to work in August. Plus the most desirable European luxury brands like Chanel, Dior, Versace, and Lanvin wouldn’t know Modern Family from The United States of Tara.

European aesthetes are only interested in TV actresses with overseas style cred, like the fashionista stars of Gossip Girl or Mad Men or Glee, who can create the same excitement as  Sex And The City did when it was a TV series. January Jones, Christina Hendricks, Heidi Klum, Tina Fey, and Jane Lynch, will get star treatment. “I would love to dress Juliana Margulies, or Toni Collette, or Rose Byrne, or Christina Hendricks. They are all very fashionable,” says Cameron Silver, owner of LA’s Decades vintage which dresses many Oscar, Globe and Emmy winners, plus major stars for after-parties. “But the woman I’d love to dress the most? Jane Lynch! She’s my favorite!”

It doesn’t matter if today’s Emmys don’t have quite the glamour quotient of the Oscars and Globes. Fashion addicts back from vacation are hungry for eye candy, and they’ll take what they can get this awkward time of year. So the media will video and photograph Jennifer Westfeldt, significant other of Mad Men‘s leading man Jon Hamm and who’ll get access to the same prestige labels he will just because of the association. And Olivia Wilde, though just a 5th lead on House, has been a top TV actress to dress from the fashion perspective ever since Sarah Jessica Parker went from small to big screen. Why? Wilde is gorgeous and has style. In other words, she rates pages. She moves merch.

Each awards show has its own fashion niche. Marilyn Heston of MHA Media, a PR/branding firm that helped put Jimmy Choo, Elie Saab, and Reem Acra on the Hollywood radar, says “the Emmys attract American designers looking for free advertising, and European brands only for maintenance.American TV shows may be huge around the globe (network shows are brought to MIPCOM and MIP TV to sell into foreign territories, while LA Screenings are designed specifically to show international buyers the fall line up for pickup in overseas markets). But only very few TV actresses will be able to obtain a couture gown that’s worth in the neighborhood of $50,000. At the Emmys, that may not matter. One year, Kyra Sedgwick wore a short L’Wren Scott sheath and stole the show. Color really stands out, so Evangeline Lilly in a pale pink strapless Elie Saab, Marcia Cross in gold-over-pink tulle Elie Saab couture, and Christina Applegate in a light blue and gold Reem Acra gown were all memorable.

Now, some Emmy-bound actresses might just head out and buy a fabulous gown or cocktail dress at Neiman’s, Barneys, or YSL. They can surely afford it. “But that’s a surefire way for them to wind up in a magazine’s ‘Who wore it best?’ standoff,” says one celebrity stylist. “Because some other actress had the same idea — and the same dress.” So, in recent years, TV stars like Eva Longoria Parker, January Jones, Heidi Klum, Olivia Wilde, and Kyra Sedgwick have hired the important stylists who dress movie stars and have ongoing relationships with designers so their dresses will be exclusive. If you want a great role, get a top agent. If you want a great dress, get a top stylist. Like ex-partners Estee Stanley (who dresses Lea Michelle, but also Jessica Alba and the Olsen Twins) or Cristina Ehrlich (Tina Fey, Toni Collette, but also Penelope Cruz and Amy Adams) who can jump the line.

But clients of stylists Rachel Zoe, or Jen Rade, or Petra Flannery won’t be going to the Nokia Theatre today. They’re strictly Oscar-bound. The biggest stylists can’t risk burning bridges. If they call in the best in dresses, jewelry, shoes and bags from fashion’s heavy hitters, it’s to dress their equally heavy hitter movie stars. If the best winds up on B- and C-listers, the duped designers are always furious. Unfortunately, the women who get the most press in the weeklies are Reality TV stars: Bravo’s Real Housewives, or TLC’s Kate Gosselin, or MTV’s Heidi. Says Silver, “The brands have to decide: Do they want to sell perfume and underwear, or feed their longevity with a page in Vogue or InStyle?”

“There’s a hierarchy of who gets what dress first,” one stylist confided. “So outside of Blake Lively, Leighton Meester, and January Jones – and of course, Heidi Klum — you’re going to see David Meister on the carpet. The Emmys are a great opportunity for small designers to make names for themselves.” Not only that, probably the best clothes and jewels are on their way right now to international media events like the Venice Film Festival and the Toronto Film Festival which kick off shortly. And if major American eveningwear designers like Vera Wang, Reem Acra, Monique L’Hullier, Carolina Herrera, Oscar de la Renta, Badgley Mischka, or Lebanese designer Elie Saab and British label Marchesa do show up outside the Nokia today, it’s because “we haven’t seen major black tie fashion since the Cannes Film Festival in May. The Emmys are the first awards show after the summer blackout. It’s a good opportunity for designers,” as the head publicist for a major shoe and bag Red Carpet brand told me. New York-based jewelry designer Kimberly McDonald made some major inroads this year with earrings and bracelets at the Golden Globes and is bank on the Emmys since “it’s very hard to break into celebrity Red Carpet dressing because some of these relationships date back a long way.” So the free advertising that designers get from today’s hoopla is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to their biz.

As a fashion flack explains, “Because there are so many actresses going, you’ve got a much better shot at getting some hits than with the other awards shows.”