- The Washington Times - Monday, January 15, 2001

First lady-to-be Laura Bush will be in red on inaugural ball night, as most of the world now knows. Barbara Bush, mother of President-elect George W. Bush, will be in her favorite blue color, says New York couturier Arnold Scaasi, who also reports that the first mother of the land has dropped at least one size since she left the White House.
At press time, Lynne Cheney, wife of Vice President-elect Richard B. Cheney, had yet to announce her choice for the hoopla on Saturday. Local retailers, meanwhile, are falling all over themselves to attract customers looking for a special gown for that special event.
Saks Fifth Avenue Chevy Chase has dressed a row of mannequins in its second floor designer salon to form what spokesman Shawny Burns calls "An Inaugural Gown Shop." The dresses, all long, are in a variety of styles and colors not just red and blue.
Neiman Marcus, which has headquarters in Dallas and therefore close to every ball-going Texan's heart, has begun an inaugural sale that includes all sorts of formal apparel with markdowns up to 40 percent in its Tysons Corner and Mazza Gallerie stores.
Nordstrom at Tysons Corner is going one better with a gimmick to attract especially men ball goers next Saturday between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. The store is literally rolling out a red carpet and offering a complimentary curbside bow tying service in front of the Pentagon City entrance. A shoe-shine stand also will be available.
Nordstrom employees from men's furnishings, cosmetics, jewelry and accessories departments will be on hand to offer advice and, of course, make any last-minute sales. That will work well for women who forgot their lipstick or have a last-minute run in their stockings and need a new pair pronto.
All kinds of ball gowns are popular, reports April Riccio, of Neiman Marcus' public relations: full-skirted and body-hugging, strapless and covered up, with a lot of color. The big thing that is different is the popularity of separates: lots of mix and match, beaded tops and a lot of embellishment in skirts, even sequined evening pants and leather at night.
"We've been selling gowns since June because some people will go to an inaugural no matter who wins. We knew red was big even before Laura Bush made her pick.
"People want to be glamorous, and so much of fashion this year is about luxury. They know the inaugural is one of D.C.'s major events."
Ms. Riccio herself plans to wear a gold silk taffeta strapless gown, while Mazza Gallerie store president Martha Sleagle will be in cut velvet.
Saks Fifth Avenue customer Wilma Bernstein, a Republican Party contributor, plans to be in navy blue strapless satin with a stole. Alma Gildenhorn, another Republican loyalist, plans to be in "maybe black or navy" something she bought special for December's Kennedy Center Honors and the National Symphony Ball. "I'll have to sparkle from within," she says.
It's not only a gown that matters but what is worn on the feet. Ball goers end up standing long hours in lines and on the dance floor. One of the most comfortable events on the schedule is the unofficial pre-inaugural ball being hosted Friday evening by the Texas State Society in the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Northwest. Some 10,000 guests scheduled to attend the Black Tie and Boots ball are expected to wear just that: formal dress and Texas-style cowboy boots.
Ball co-chairwoman Penne Percy Korth, who was in charge of the inaugural planning for former President Bush, will be in gold lace and high heels "from Neiman Marcus, of course." Her favorite pair of black leather boots that her father gave her many decades ago will be on display for the occasion, along with those of George W. Bush and his father, as well as Mr. Cheney's.
"It's a good time for retailers to make up any losses," says former fashion retail executive Aniko Gaal Schott. "Women are excited because they can wear a drop-dead gown with boots and be in style. And Republican women tend to dress up more."
Sherry Stanley, a senior vice president of Northern Virginia Capitol Advantage publishing firm, spent her noon hour Wednesday in Lynelle Boutique at 1800 M St. NW, where it is possible both to rent and buy gowns and jewelry accessories. She couldn't decide between a white lace with "real fur" on a detachable collar and a mauve-pink beaded silk gown. Both were priced under $400. The white had the upper hand since, as boutique owner Lynda Slayen advised her, it would do as well for the wedding that her client was planning in the near future.
"Women feel like buying something different for the inaugural," Mrs. Slayen says, "something Gothic or Victorian, and not your basic black." Much of her business she says comes on referral from hotel concierges, who recommend the store for people coming to Washington from out of town. "They are even asking for tiaras. Rental rates are $99 for three days."
As Peter Marx of Saks-Jandel says, "People are ready to party."
"There was a tremendous hold for a while," notes the president of the woman's high-end specialty store in Chevy Chase. "Even if customers had picked out a gown, they didn't want to pay for it until they knew the outcome of the election. We were very optimistic and stocked enough. What's moving is a lot of color, more than usual: festive reds and fuchsia, even hunter green."
Columnist and John McCain supporter Arianna Huffington is taking an oppositionist line as chairwoman of Saturday's Creative Coalition after-ball party at the Women's Museum. "I'll definitely be in black. I know there will be plenty of people in red."


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