- The Washington Times - Friday, January 14, 2005

Ruffles and flourishes will salute President Bush at his inauguration next week, and partygoers will be echoing that theme. Bustles, ball gowns and bling-bling are the trend this year for Republican supporters, many of whom are plunking down sizable amounts of cash to set the mood.

“Shimmery, sparkly and shiny,” Melissa Ekblom, spokeswoman for Neiman Marcus, said yesterday. “Women are really dressing up this year. It seems people want to be more formal than four years ago.”

It’s inauguration season, a time when Washington women morph from Brooks Brothers black cocktail suits to Hollywood glamour — at least for one night.

“Everyone’s wearing bright colors; citron green is very, very popular. And they want traditional ball gowns with ruffles,” said Sue Ellen Lewis, evening-gown buyer for downtown’s Rizik’s.

Apparently, business is booming for the Connecticut Avenue dress shop.

“We were jammed on Saturday,” said Ms. Lewis, who traveled to New York twice to restock her supply of evening wear and accessories.

And the $500 to $3,000 price tags are never deterrents.

“We always get people at the last minute looking for something better,” the clothier said. And this year, “everyone is definitely more enthusiastic.”

At Saks Fifth Avenue in Chevy Chase, business also has been brisk.

“A lot of younger girls love the accordion pleats. We’re selling a lot of citron green, kiwi and aqua blue,” said Ashley Lethbridge, the store’s 22-year-old evening-wear specialist.

The store recently expanded it’s evening-gown selection for the inauguration, and lowered some of the dress prices, which cost an average of $300. “So you can get two, if you need to,” Miss Lethbridge added.

For women who don’t want to make the investment, rental gowns are available at Lynelle Boutique on Vermont Avenue, between 14th and L streets in Northwest.

Lynda Slayen, the store’s owner, has been in business for 20 years and thinks hers is the only shop in town that rents ball gowns for $99 for three nights. She works with hotel concierges citywide to help with last-minute emergencies. “Lost luggage, that sort of thing,” she said.

Mrs. Slayen said the popular colors in her store this year are burgundy, purple and gold. “There are always people who want to stand out,” she said.

Some women are taking their cue from their spouses, the majority of whom rent tuxedos for the balls. But are men hitting the formal-wear stores?

“Like you wouldn’t believe,” said Carlos Garcia, manager for the After Hours Formalwear store at the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City. “At least 100 a day. And they’re going all out.”

Mr. Garcia said the most-requested tux is a two-button jacket with a bow tie and vest. “Very, very traditional,” he said, for his 30-year-old to 40-year-old clientele.

As for the nine inaugural balls themselves, “I think it sounds more glamorous than it is,” Mrs. Slayen said.

Indeed, many women swear they would never attend another inaugural ball after a night of spilled drinks; cold, concrete floors; long bar lines; warm champagne in plastic glasses; and a two-hour wait to retrieve a coat.

Some words to the wise: Never check a coat at an inaugural ball.

“You’ll never see it again,” Mrs. Slayen said with a laugh.

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