At first glance, it looked like all these fashionable women had gotten dressed that morning in a hurry.
Some of the most elegant members of the audience turned up for the fall fashion previews in Europe last March wearing hooded sweat shirts under their impeccably-cut designer jackets the hood drooping out over the back a la street punk.
But that unexpected contrast of the fine with the sporty had a certain catchy elan, and as the fall fashions hit the stores this month, hoods -- of all variety -- are shaping up to be the hallmark of the season.
Only the true devotees of style in Baltimore will probably be flipping hoods over top their jackets to the office, but hoods are gaining popularity for weekend wear, both casual and dressy.
Stores as diverse as Ruth Shaw and the Banana Republic are carrying their interpretations of the trend.
And you'll see hooded garments at The Gap, The Limited and at Saks Fifth Avenue -- for women and for men, in cotton and in cashmere.
While most people associate the hooded sweat shirt with gyms and gray sweats, it does have something of a fashion pedigree. French designer Claude Montana, the darling worldwide of the fashion avant garde, adopted the hooded sweat shirt and leather jacket as his uniform several years ago and has rarely been photographed without his trademark hood.
This is one trend, however, that Americans get most of the credit for. In fact, American designers offered up so many hooded parkas and anoraks last winter that the presence of so many more in the European shows for this winter startled those accustomed to Americans following the lead of Europeans when it comes to styles like the pouf.
"But it's not the first American trend the Europeans have picked up," points out Ray Mitchener, manager of Ruth Shaw. "Just a few years ago everybody in Milan was walking around in plaid Bermudas and Weejuns."
He sees hoods as just part of a larger direction that fashion has taken toward "survival gear and the Great Outdoors Look."
Hoods just happen to be the most prominent aspect of the very sporty turn that fashion has taken overall this year. The theme of Bloomingdale's new advertising campaign is fall's "Sport Story."
"It's our interpretation of the season's athletically-inspired stree chic -- the hooded parka, the anorak drawstring at the waist, riding jackets and stirrup pants, ski pants, and hooded suits with matching shell coats," says Shawny Burns, a fashion director for Bloomingdale's. "Among our favorites are quilted down jackets that move from day into evening, from work to play."
Workout wear, ski gear and riding habits provided most of the inspiration, with some sleek bicycling influences thrown in thanks to the chic evinced by so many bike messengers in major metropolitan areas.
The Lycra stretch that's kept women looking slim in the gym can be found in ready-to-wear this fall in nearly every fabric imaginable, from blue jeans to evening gowns.
The unitard, catsuit, bodysuit can all be traced back to the gym or to the second skin suits worn by bicyclists.
The scoop-necked leotard top and leggings are familiar items from the ballet studio.
Some hoods around are reminiscent of those worn by boxers in gyms, others are huge and fur-trimmed like a glamorous ski parka, while others show a more medieval feeling that knights might have donned for a jousting tournament.
The active influence shows up in a different way for evening. The silky, hooded black blouses at Le Chateau in the Owings Mills Mall are more suitable for a dance club than a fitness club. At The Gap, the look is definitely casual in easy, colorful hooded tunic tops.
At Ruth Shaw the hooded possibilities include metal studded wool jersey hoods by Eric Javits, tubular knit hoods that can be pulled up like an extended turtleneck, wool jersey dresses and anorak outerwear.
"The whole idea is to have it look like the hood's being worn for protection, a piece to keep you warm, but it's really a detail, an accessory," says Mr. Mitchener.
Thus, the Eric Javits studded jersey hood looks lovely pulled down around the neck in a scarf-like manner, but when one first walks into the party -- in from the cold -- the hood still looks chic worn up and over the hair.
FASHION'S ACTIVE INFLUENCES
1. Hoods: attached to sweaters, shirts, dresses and as accessories.
2. Stirrup pants and leggings.
3. Anoraks and parkas.
4. Drawstring waists, sleeves and hems.
5. Toggle buttons.
6. Cozy quilted jackets and overalls.
7. Scooped-neck ballet suits.
8. Unitards and catsuits.
9. Lycra in lame and lace and every imaginable fabric.
10. Riding jackets.
11. Jodhpur stitching on slim pants.
12. Tall riding boots, short ski boots.
13. Short shorts worn for day and evening.
14. Cocktail dresses cut like T-shirts, tank tops and with swimsuit backs.