THE WORLD OF SPLENDIDgala dressing can't be summed up quite as neatly as the more mundane sphere of everyday dressing.
This fall's daytime direction is clearly pointed in favor of short narrow skirts, paired with long jackets and opaque stockings.
For evening, about the only trend local style-setters seem to agree on is that plenty of glitter, sparkle and shine will light up the after-five festivities of Baltimore's haut monde.
Many gowns will be long, but short styles will also make the scene. Long, slender dresses are the news on the international runways, but several local women -- typically on the cutting edge of style -- are looking forward to donning the traditional bouffant ball gown this season.
"I think the rules have changed," says Nancy Sachs, Saks Fifth Avenue fashion director. "Women are a lot more comfortable now just wearing what looks best on them at night and they can set their own fashion."
At next week's Saks Goes Hollywood gala to benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, she anticipates as many as 70 percent of the women will turn up in short dresses, but she plans to wear hers long.
"I would never wear a dress below my knees during the day now, but given a choice, I really prefer a long dress at night," she says.
While this season's gala social scene is just getting under way, she says, "What we're seeing [at the store] is a continuation of women who like body conscious looks for day wearing very short and very bare for evening, and then there are lots of other women who like a very regal look for evening and enjoy a long gown."
Over the last few years, yet another option has opened up for evening dressing -- glamorous separates in silks, sequins, velvet and lame.
Toni Rosenblatt, owner of Oney's, says some of the bustiers, shells, chiffon skirts, pants and jackets now available can be switched around to create a multiple of gala evening looks. (Only those combinations that give the illusion of a one-piece outfit would be suitable for most formal events, such as next month's Opera Ball, she adds).
A wider variety of color is being predicted by national fashion forecasters, and the look seems to be filtering down for evening.
Ms. Sachs says Saks is carrying bright green beaded items, colorful brocades and black embellished with bright colors. "From Bob Mackie, we have black and gold, and silver and black and brocades -- there's not as much solid black as there used to be."
Regarding her personal wardrobe, she says, "I wore an understated long black Donna Karan dress to the symphony gala, but next week I'm going to wear bright red -- it's off-the-shoulder, close-fitting and long-sleeved."
Louise Goodman, who's regarded as one of the most stylish women to be seen at area gala events, says black and red have been the colors she's seen women wear most often in the past, but in her travels to other cities she's noticed color popping up more often.
"I think people are getting a little more daring," she says. Black velvet and satin have been her favorites in recent seasons, but this fall she plans to try out an evening gown in a more experimental color.
Another elegant local dresser, designer Rita St. Clair, recently purchased a striking embossed panne velvet dress in bronze and black to wear for the fall.
"It's very simple, form-fitting, with long sleeves and a V-neck," she says.
To slip over long black "nothing" dresses, she also found an "an enormous shawl that's like something a lady in a harem would wear -- it's double-faced panne velvet in gold, blue and green like a mosaic, with paisley on the inside and enormous tassels."
Extravagant beading is another option many are considering for fall galas. Glitter is "always something women love," says Ms. Goodman.
But this year the selection is vast -- glitz turns up not only decorating dresses in sequins, jewels, beaded fringe and embroidering, but stockings glimmer, footwear is studded with jewels and handbags sparkle.
Ms. St. Clair says that fashion's new enthusiasm for beautiful but obviously fake jewelry has enabled her to indulge her penchant for chunky jewelry.
While Seventh Avenue fashion designers are fearing a severe decline in consumer spending, the evening-wear category is booming.
Ms. Goodman observes, "There's been a lot more dressing up in Baltimore over the last five years."
Ms. St. Clair adds, "I don't think people are going to stop dressing up and start wearing widow weeds. We've lived through a lot worse recessions -- or whatever you want to call it -- already. And you see that when people are feeling that things aren't going just the way they want, they see going out at night and dressing up as a wonderful excuse to forget whatever their problems are."
* Drop it: Shoulder dusting earrings win the title of favorite accessory. Whether they're colorful crystals, burnished gold drops, gleaming silver or pearls, a pair of shoulder dusters can give the most glamorous finish to the simplest dress.