- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Mayday, Mayday! Washington, we have an inauguration problem.

High-end stores are stocking fewer gowns than usual this year, says fashion industry guru Cynthia O’Connor, increasing a woman’s likelihood of appearing at an inaugural ball in the same outfit as somebody else.

Nobody wants to find herself in the awkward position of first lady Laura Bush, who provided nip for catty social columnists when she showed up at the 2006 Kennedy Center Honors in the same red Oscar de la Renta gown worn by three other women at the event.

This year, however, solutions are being offered.

At DressRegistry.com, you can “register” your dress by event (Democracy Ball, Patriot Ball, Hawaii Inauguration Ball, etc.) to avoid seeing “your identical twin” and also to get an idea of the style of dress each ball demands.

“Through our site, women can register their own inaugural gowns for free and review the types of gowns others will be wearing, ” said Andrew Jones, DressRegistry.com founder. “The one thing they can’t do is see who is wearing what. That would be cheating.”

Other, more costly options are available for those aspiring to lofty positions in the new “Obamalot” society.

Christina Travers, a New York fashion designer behind her own label, Grace, parlayed Mrs. Bush’s “red dress incident” into a reason to custom-design gowns for the inauguration.

“I knew there was a need,” said Ms. Travers, who hails from the District and worked on Bill Clinton’s inaugural festivities. “This is an experience I know firsthand. There are going be quite a number of events, and women are looking for special things to mark the occasion, so as you can imagine the response has been quite strong.”

Ms. Travers will not reveal her clients’ identities, but said they are from eclectic backgrounds including “fashion, finance, media, entertainment and politics.”

The Travers samples surveyed by The Washington Times run the gamut from flirty body-hugging cocktail numbers to full-skirted frocks with French lace evening jackets.

Ms. Travers said the cost of her designs depends on the length of the dress and the type of fabric used.

Last week, New York designer and native Washingtonian Kathlin Argiro hosted a trunk show for Rep. Corrine Brown, Florida Democrat, to showcase her own inaugural fashion line for Miss Brown’s colleagues and staffers.

Miss Argiro, who has made her mark designing graduation dresses for students at local private schools, is making only 10 samples to control duplication. She said she expects a “mad rush” of requests after the holiday season.

Local department stores also are capitalizing on the gowns-gone-wild epidemic.

“We are absolutely seeing a demand for designer ball gowns from our clients that will be attending the many inaugural events. Currently, both Oscar de la Renta and Carolina Herrera gowns are proving to be doing extremely well in our D.C.-area stores,” said Michael Fink, vice president of women’s fashion for Saks Fifth Avenue, whose Chevy Chase store caters to the ladies-who-shop set.

Mr. Fink said his team of Saks Fifth Avenue Club “fashion confidantes” are standing by ready to help damsels in distress avoid a dress repeat appearance.

“As community insiders, the consultants have the ability to let a client know what other clients have purchased and what they will be wearing to each event,” he said.

At Neiman Marcus in Friendship Heights, fashion director Ken Downing says his sales associates and personal shoppers also are taking notes.

“Our clients are very event-driven and social. Our associates and personal shoppers are good at keeping track of who is wearing what,” Mr. Downing said.

Neiman Marcus has held trunk shows with well-known red carpet designers Vicky Tiel and Marchesca for their clients looking to stand out like stars on Inauguration Day.

Of course, if the unthinkable happens and you find yourself in the same dress as another woman at the ball, a sense of humor may be your best accessory, said Washington style consultant Lauren Rothman.

“Smile and compliment her. Hopefully, your makeup and hairstyle will help make your look a bit more unique. The nod of approval from one well-dressed woman to another is always in style.”

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