Audrey Ward came to check out new hair products for her salon, Audrey's Hairstylists in Mt. Ranier, and to catch up again with some of her old classmates at the now-defunct Madame Walker Beauty School.

Celestina Faulks, a speech pathology major at Howard University, came because "it was time for a new image," she said, and this was the place to find it.

They were among the 2,000 professional cosmetologists, manufacturers and consumers who registered for the Big Show Expo at the Sheraton Park yesterday.

More than 20,000 visitors are expected for the three-day exhibition of hair care, cosmetics, and related products and paraphernalia, seminars, and fashion shows.

This is the 17th annual exhibition but the first held in Washington since the original one in 1960 which had only 2,000 visitors over a three-day period. Sponsored by Beauty Trade magazine, the publication directed to the black beauty industry, the show will be open until 7 p.m. to the public with an admission charge today and Tuesday.

Crowds gathered around the booths demonstrating hair conditioning, straightening, and styling techniques. Scheduled Seminars on trends and consumer problems never got started as the crowd seemed more intent on studying the work of hairstylists and buying beauty products at rates reduced for the show.

"People seem to be having too good a time to be drawn to a seminar," said John Carlton, marketing director for both Beauty Trade magazine and the show. He was scouting the crowd for Altovise Davis, wife of Sammy Davis Jr., and Ann Haley, daughter fo Alex Haley, two of the participants at one seminar that never happened.

Altovise Davis arrived escorted by two armed guards. She had stopped in Chicago on the way to Washington to spend the night with her "pals" Donald and Joyce Rumsfeld.

Davis signed up with Paris Associates last November to help design and promote wigs and will be at Hecht's Tuesday.

Davis, who cheerfully signed autographs, posed for photos with visitors and talked about her husband ("No he doesn't wear a wig," and "Yes, he still has more jewelry than I do,"). She was wigless, wearing a tube top, knotted shirt and high-heeled shoes. ("I can only wear them when I'm not with Sammy," she said laughing.)

As a dancer she has worn a lot of wigs, but the 16 styles she helps design are light (because of a lace cap) and frizz free and she thinks that is a great advantage. Then she slipped off her straw hat and put on one of her wigs.

She was wearing several of the gold and diamond gifts she had gotten from her husband as wedding presents, including a diamond arrow and the name Alto on gold necklaces and a bikini belt. "It's a good reminder to me when I have eaten too much for dinner that I better not have breakfast."