Inaugural Attire

IN STYLE

January 14, 1993|By Mary Corey | Mary Corey,Staff Writer

From sequined show-stoppers to simple black dresses, from Americana accessories to heirloom jewels, women are preparing to dress up and party down at inaugural festivities next week.

Look for a sea of black with splashes of red, shimmering sequins and even a few well-placed stars and stripes. Although style is key, many ball-goers are putting comfort at a premium on a night when the whole country celebrates -- seemingly all in the same ballroom. One local businesswoman is being so practical about her attire that she's wearing Nike tennis shoes with her Yves Saint Laurent gown.

And why not? Unless you're named Hillary or Tipper, you're not likely to stand out from the masses on Wednesday night. But that doesn't concern many Maryland women, who say they're going to have fun, not make a fashion statement.

"People are looking to party," says Nancy Sachs, fashion and public relations director for Saks Fifth Avenue in Owings Mills. "The Reagan and Bush inaugurals were more stately. But people want to have a good time now. They're coming in in a festive mood."

That sentiment often translates into a kickier style of dressing. The more daring will be donning bustiers, thigh-high slit dresses and seriously strapless gowns. After four years of triple strands of pearls, it is indeed time for a change.

Ms. Sachs, who will be attending an inaugural fashion show in Washington next week, has already picked out her outfit: a white wool Donna Karan pantsuit with red and navy in the top and accessories.

"It's patriotic, but it's much more sophisticated," she says.

Look for other women to wear their love of country on their ears (star-shaped earrings), their love of Clinton on their shoulders (gold-plated saxophone pins) and their love of a bargain in their hearts.

Rental shops in Washington are reporting brisk business. At Til Midnight, a rental shop in Northwest Washington, 90 percent of the gowns (priced between $75 and $325) are already spoken for on Inauguration Day, says Ingrid Lepscky, the store's manager who incidentally will be wearing a rented Bob Mackie gown to the MTV ball on Wednesday.

Although both short and long styles are popular, Ms. Lepscky has been surprised by who's preferring each.

"Veteran ball-goers have come in and said they would rather wear short dresses. They say, 'It's a massive party/mob scene, and it's cumbersome to have a long dress on. People step on the hem. Things gets spilled.' But the girls in their 20s have been coming in saying they want to do the full ball skirt and the gloves," she says.

The women of Arkansas are expected to make their own statement.

"Arkansas has a very sophisticated customer. It's not like New York -- they're more citified. And Dallas is more into color and glitz. We're in between," says Greer Grace, business manager of Barbara-Jean Ltd., a store in Little Rock, Ark., where Hillary Clinton has shopped for 15 years.

"We have sold a variety of dresses -- from a sophisticated Sarah Phillips to a beaded black tie -- but they're all long," she says.

As for the Maryland fashion contingent, there are a few knock-out styles, but mostly the emphasis is on understated black. A shopper at Saks recently purchased two Bob Mackie gowns for Inaugural events -- a navy halter and a red sequin strapless dress. And Ruth Shaw, owner of the namesake store in Cross Keys, recently sold a bronze taffeta and beaded dress for the occasion.

Alice Curran will be wearing a long black strapless gown to the ball she's attending with her father, J. Joseph Curran Jr., Maryland's attorney general.

For her, finding the right dress was more adventure than ordeal. She visited only one store, Loehmann's, and tried on just a few dresses. The price ($150) sold her on this velvet one.

"Why spend a million dollars on something you'll wear once?" says Ms. Curran, 32, an accountant who lives in Ednor Gardens.

As for the color, she and many other women chose black because it's basic, timeless and slenderizing.

"After the holidays, it was the only thing I looked skinny in," she says with a laugh.

Maggie Barris also opted for a black dress, but her choice was a short chiffon number with a rhinestone buckle. She was particularly interested in finding an understated style to show off a diamond necklace and opal and diamond bracelet she'll be wearing.

Although she found two other dresses that she also liked, her pocketbook ruled. The $200 dress won out over others that were twice as expensive, says Ms. Barris, 46, a social worker who lives in Baltimore.

For Jennie Kopelson, being 6-feet tall limited her options. She went with the old standby -- a simple black cocktail dress she bought at Ann Taylor. Now if she could only convince her family and friends that she's made the right decision.

"Everyone's trying to tell me I need glitter. They think I should be wearing a big long ball gown. But that's just not me," says Ms. Kopelson, 22, a volunteer with the Clinton transition office who lives in Randallstown.

Other women will wear cocktail dresses they have in their closets, and a few young ball-goers may turn up in prom dresses.

But few will compare to Connie Caplan. A Clinton fund raiser and local businesswoman, she has several events in Washington next week -- dinner on Monday, swearing-in ceremonies on Wednesday and a ball that same night. Although she has outfits picked out for each affair, there will be one constant in her wardrobe: Nike tennis shoes.

"Considering what Washington will be like," she says, "the best thing to be is comfortable."

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