IT's HARD to imagine what the world "Georgetown" means to the rest of the world. There are the "silver foxes" - eminences of the New Deal who moved to what was, in the '30s, a rundown neighborhood - with their aura of old money, diplomacy, Democratic party politics; and there are their friends, the media moguls. Then there is the Georgetown of the New Frontier, from which John Kennedy stepped into the presidency, and which closed its doors quietly behind his sad young widow . There was the beery, rep-tie Georgetown of the university; there was Barbara Howar's Georgetown a-go-go; then youth culture Georgetown: gay, frizzy, champagne, cocaine, runaway Georgetown. This is a story about what happened then.

Psychology is no fun without the case histories. Neither is sociology. So this is less a story Georgetown than it is a story about Hair. In general. And about Barbara Harbaugh in particular - hair cutter, Georgetown denizen, businesswoman. She has learned a great deal since 1965, when she was - yes - a country girl fresh off the farm in Unionville, Md.

Harbaugh is selling out her partnership in Flashback, the hair salon she opened in 1973. She found a steady boyfriend for the first time in years, a Georgetown restaurant owner.So what if he's married? Life isn't all bean sprouts. "For a long time," says Harbaugh (who views the world through an only slightly kinky lace doily), "I was thinking I should move out of Washington because it was a gay city and I was surrounded by gays. I found out that it's not. Yeah, right down the street!"

She is giving up hair cutting society for the cool, dusty, subterranean recesses of the Corcoran School of Art, where students wear sandals with socks, and ashes strewn on thrift shop skirts. She is studying photography, drawing, and sculpture. Of sculpting, she says, in her delicate, tentative voice, "It's wonderful. I get dirty. I throw things. I'm realy being free with the material. Before . . . well, I couldn't?" She's become a bit of a feminist.She's tired of having male business partners. She's tired of the clubby Georgetown world of hair cutters. She wants to go it alone now, into the temple of art.

She's always had the artistic aspiration, and now that she is 30, and has her nest egg - well, it's time. And while the story of Barbara Harbaugh is by no means the archetypal story, or even th archetypal Georgetown hair-cutting society story, it explains something about the last 10 years, about how Georgetown got hip. And why the young entrepreneurs, the hip ones, the ones who got us into Cardin suits, blow dry hair cuts, gay discos, bistros, and Giuseppina's agnolotti, are moving on.

Georgetown is no longer hip. At least in that sense. And those who always hated hip Georgetown, - its sidewalk vendors, the pickpockets the crowds brought, the plainclothes cops in love beads, the sleazy boutiques, the litter, and the new porn shop - probably won't shed a tear. "I've had oldtimers say they don't go walking on Wisconsin Avenue anymore," says Olcott Deming, president of the Citizens' Association of Georgetown. "It's the whole scene. Older people don't want to be jostled around."

Georgetown's European village aura is what brings everybody back to it, whatever its incarnation, whatever people are wearing on the streets, whatever this year's definition of Georgetown chic is. Such disparate groups come to love the place - the New Dealers and Henry Kissinger, Jackie O and LaBelle L, the artists and the architects, the journalists the students, the Establishment, the innies, the Outies, the hetero-and homosexuals. All have, at one time or another, gravitated to Georgetown. Who knows why? The only constant is its funny little (six figure) buildings.

But ah - into that pastoral scene of quiet antique shops, adorable galleries, simple $900 wool dresses burst, in 1969, the Age of Aquarius. Groupies, unisex, all-day parties, loud music - in short, Hair Inc. opened on the uphill side of Wisconsin Avenue, according to its proprietors, the second of its kind in the country. People came to Georgetown from as far away as Philadelphia for that give-me-down-to-there hair. The whole world got shag haircuts. The proprietors got Rolls-Royces.

By the second year, Hair Inc. had opened a second salon, and had grossed half a million dollars, they say, from an orginal investment of $3,000.

The Hair Inc. people were the first of the new young entrepreneurs. Until then, "young entrepreneurs" had been the nearly venerable purveyors of hamburgers, hootenannies, and tweeds to the Georgetown University crowd. But with the advent of Hair Inc., there were suddenly young, non-U businesspeople.

This was the New Capitalism. It was not tweeds to which they aspired, nor Ivy League understatement, nor the Georgetown cocktail circuit, nor stuffy French restaurants with dress cods and no music.

Hair Inc. hired Barbara Harbaugh straight off. Jean Pierre Sarfati, the father of Hair Inc., says his partner Robert Novel hired her over his - J.P.'s - dead body.

"I had this big fight with Robert," says Sarfati. "I said there's no way she's going to work here. Not with her looks. She was very, very conservative. She looked like she just came up from the country."

It wasn't precisely the country. It was Richmond, actually, which has its charms. One of which was not the nice, quiet, boring "well-established dentist" who wanted to marry Barbara Harbaugh.

She had gone to Richmond in 1965, straight out of Walkersville (Md.) High School where she was a cheerleader. One of the ones with the perfectly curled flip. In Richmond, she worked at an enormous hair-do factory doing scores of beehives a day. She became engaged. He was a nice man. She was converting to Judaism. But then - well, she went ot Europe for a month.

"I told the dentist. I wasn't prepared to become his wife," she says. "My personality still calls for lots of freedom. Growing up in the country with lots of space . . ." She speaks in ellipsis ". . . working in that beauty salon atmosphere, you see what women are doing to themselves . . . staying at home . . . having babies . . ."

Europe opened her eyes. "In Switzerland," she says, "to walk the avenues, women do not wear pants. Everybody in Europe dressed beautifully. They walked arm-in-arm. There we were, walking the avenue in our doubleknits . We were actually humiliated by the lovely people in furs . . . the well-groomed men . . . People should hold themselves well, look well. In Europe, nobody teased their hair. I could see how ugly my art made women to be."

In her scrapbook, there is a Kodachrome snapshots of Harbaugh smiling sweetly. At the dentist. Her hair was by then a platinum blonde bubble.

On the next page is Harbaugh, striding up the Acropolis, scowling purposefully. Her hair is long and brown again. Hair portends.

So it was good-bye, Richmond, hello Georgetown. Hello lovely people in their fur. Hello Hair. Hello Jean Pierre Sarfati.

Theirs was not an association made in heaven. Sarfati says he accused her of being country. She says he accused of having a drug problem.She says she didn't. Somebody else says she quit because he cursed at her: "She's a very sensitive girl," says the observer. "An independent girl." She says she left because there were no lunch hours, no commissions. Sarfati says . . . well, you see how it goes.

Jean Pierre Sarfati has built an empire of hair, and has probably had as much or more influence on the way Washingtonians - and Georgetown - look, as anyone. He prevails. He still wears his shirts unbuttoned to the solar plexus, to reveal an unbelievably furry macho chest and gold chains. The only difference, after 10 years, is that today he wears his shirts under three-piece suits.

Sarfati and his former Hair Inc. partner Robert Novel, and their former employees, are the trunk of an enormous spreading family tree of trendy hair-cutting salons. Barbara Harbaugh, with a partner, opened Flashback in 1973. Hair alumni also opened in Georgetown alone, Bogart, Upstairs Downstairs, Head Start, Cutaway, on Capitol Hill, Scissorsmith; on Connecticut Avenue, Supercut.

Olcott Deming, the citizens' association president, pauses for an interview between attacks on the District Building and Georgetown's first porn shop. A suave, silver-haired retired ambassador, Deming thinks the hair cutting boom "was a response to the '60s."

"The hair salons were among the first and certainly the most conspicuous," says Deming, "of businesses catering to the young." Georgetown boomed. Olcott Deming says there are 62 bars and restaurants there now. Ten years ago, there were "about 30."

Soon, of course, the fountain of youth trade followed the kids to Georgetown. Almost everybody had a crack at Hair Inc. or its clones. Sarfati and Novel showed Sen. George McGovern (D-S.D.) how to arrange his hair to deemphasize his bald spot. When "All the President's Men" was filming in Washington, actor Jack Warden and Dustin Hoffman's wife nipped into Harbaugh's Flashback for a trim. Among the customers she is leaving are painter Sam Gillian, and others whose names she is too discreet to remember. Trendy young diplomats. Long-haired journalists. A presidential aide or two. Socialities.

"Hair cutters know a little more about every part of the city," she says. "People come and sit in your chair and talk. If you don't have a shrink to go to, and you need an opinion . . . well, the hairdresser usually knows who's having an affair. Remember Mr. X and Mrs. Y? I knew about it before Mr. Y did."

What the hair cutters did next - their jeans pockets stuffed with $50 bills - was very racy indeed. Certainly Mr. X and Mrs. Y, or even poor old Mr. Y, never got involved. "We appeared to be a very free group," says one now-domesticated member, "both sexually and drug-wise."

Maybe they made it all right for gays to have front line jobs in the restaurants.

Maybe they started the bistro boom.

Maybe they started the northern Italian food boom.

Maybe they started the white wine boom.

Maybe they started the disco boom.

Maybe they started the cocaine boom.

Maybe they didn't. But all this came in the wake of hair cutting society.

Sarfati says, "Robert and I went out and bought houses in Georgetown. We each bought a Rolls Royce and a lot of antiques. Cocaine was cheap then. We started to serve wine to our customers at 11 o'clock in the morning. People loved it. To outsiders, it looked like we did not work and had a lot. Girls would come to watch us work. Of course, Robert and I were young and handsome men then. Everybody got high. There were groupies. It was so high, too fast. A party every day!"

"Causing the kind of scene we caused today," says Robert Novel, "would probably seem in poor taste - garish and middle-class - but at that time it seemed funny to have a Bentley pull up with HAIR license plates and have 20 kids pile out of it. It was our company car."

There was Dom Perignon champagne every night - nights still commemorated at Nathan's at Wisconsin and M with flower-filled champagne bottles on the tables instead of vases. There were, as Barbara Harbaugh's close friend, John Collison, a former Nathan's waiter now in New York City, recalls, tips of $50 for a champagne tab of $30.

"It was as much of a status symbol to have a gram of coke as it was to have a Cartier watch," says an observer. "Now all those things are part of middle America.The association is nouveauriche."

The cocaine dealers came to Georgetown too, a little too ostentatiously, some thought. One observer recalls, "All of those strange people who used to come into the restaurants, dealers who moved through Georgetown spending money as though as it would never end - they don't come any more. Cocaine has a quieter face now. It's less obvious. It's still there, but I think it has moved away from the restaurants into Cleveland Park."

Cleveland Park?"

Indeed.

But the shrewd young business people of hair cutting society were accepted in Georgetown in the early '70s, regardless of race, creed, academic or social background, sex, or sexual orientation. They had lots of money to enhance their youthful glow. They attracted pretty girls, Georgetown University students, actors and designers moonlighting as waiters, trendy young professionals, and, with their taste in art and antiques - art students and artists.

They began to overlap with Washington's gay society. In some cases, they were Washington's gay society. So something of the gay life merged into . . . well, not really "mainstream" culture, but heterosexual hair cutting culture. Georgetown Jenunesse. Whatever.

These were Barbara Harbaugh's friends. There were coed forays to the gay discotheques that began to flourish in the old warehouse in southwest - the Pier 9, Lost and Found. In Georgetown, briefly, there was Sundown, a short-lived gay disco beneath the Cerberus Theaters. It is now occupied by Pisces, which is a private club. Somewhat Republican, indeed.

Georgetown's first French bistro, the Cafe de Paris, opened next door to Sundown in the spring of 1974. It became the after hours hangout. Owner Michel Sellier had intended, he says, to run a quiet little pastry and carryout place. Instead, within two days of its opening, the Cafe was filled with the most outlandish folk, from across the alley at Sundown, dressed to the nines, clamoring for continental munchies a cut above the average 3 a.m. Eddie Leonard's binge.

And Sellier, a former society chef for Jock Whitney, and at Maxim's, made big balloons. With a $5,000 original investment, he says he grossed $1.2 million the first year and set off the bistro boom.

Meanwhile, Barbara Harbaugh was getting her piece of the quiche. Four years ago, she opened Flashback with a partner. She bought him out and replaced him with another. Today, she and her lawyer are negotiating the sale of her half, for an amount that could go anywhere from four to 10 times her original investment. While working at Flashback, she made perhaps $24,000 a year.

She is by no means rich. But the education was priceless.

Barbara Harbaugh is not what you'd call an expensively schooled woman. She unblushingly speaks of herself as a person who does not read. A person who could not afford to go to art school after high school. A person who "did not have much of an education before getting into this business." Her mother is a factory worker, her father a night watchman. "Very middle-to-lower-class," she says. "Very wholesome."

There's a forthright country woman's "word-is-my-bond" ethic to her (which does not endear hair-cutting entrepreneurs to her). But there are also the shy, sidelong glances when she self-mockingly describes winning that Draw-the-Dog magazine contest in high school, or her Richmond incarnations. The humor fades into enthusiasm when she speaks of going, recently, to her grandmother's 79th birthday party. It was celebrated by some 50 relatives at the Dandee Restaurant near Frederick, Md. "It's a surprise party," she says. "But we do it every year. I like to watch the family grow."

Her life is by no means all coverdish suppers, however. There she is, lunching somewhere in Georgetown, inquiring after the provenance of the house wine more boldly than most women do. Or sallying forth from Annapolis in the $6,000 Grampian 23 sailboat she shares with a friend. Or driving her jeep to Sugarbrush, Vt., to go antiquing. She has acquired an accent and a syntax that may have been polished by more expensive ones.But it doesn't sound affected.

Barbara Harbaugh is a watcher, a learner, a picker-up of hints. "She was never part of the champagne-cocaine crowd," says John Collison. "There are those who were there, but not necessarily in it. She has always really wanted a quiet life. She ran away to the country all the time I knew her."

So it is not that part of the high life that Harbaugh is turning away from. There were other parts which irritated her. She comes away from the life with a combination of feminism ("Don't have a male partner") and misogynism ("I don't like the way women talk. . ."). There's a weariness with what she calls the "surface" world of fashion and gay men. There is a sense that she has wasted a lot of money frivolously. She rented a farm two summers ago and had an epiphany of sorts. "I started thinking about my excess of money," she says. "I was throwing it away. I was using it to have my overalls dry cleaned. I always laughed about getting into my crisp, starched overalls to go to work in the garden."

That sense of exquisite excess pervades all of hair cutting society, and Harbaugh learned more about the good life from the gay segment of that world than she did from Jean Pierre Sarfati and his clan. She was educating herself for the good life, and she found it - for years - in the company of gays.

"The society of gays is nice," she says. "They're very protective of women they like. They treat a woman with a lot of courtesy. Opening doors. Sending flowers. Then I started feeling that it was mostly surface . . . a lot of that life is based on egotism and physical appearance. I felt they weren't courteous because they were doing it for me. It was just a social act, not out of . . ."She pauses, raises her big green eyes, and gigles.

"Can you help me out? I guess I was looking for a more complete relationship with a man. Straight men probably didn't know whether or not I was gay. It discourages straight men from asking you out.

"It's either that," she sighs, "or my breath."

God knows a good man is hard to find and complaints from far and wide, from New York to San Francisco, are heard that the only nice men around who aren't married, bisexual, haven't taken vows of celibacy to their gurus, or who are 18 years old, are gay. So part of Barbara Harbaugh's new program is a pleasant married man who says he has an open marriage. He spends weekends with his out-of-town wife. It's not so hard, she says. "He's so nice to be with when he's here," she says, "I don't mind the weekends."

So she contemplates her possessions, her art deco dressing table, her silver tea service, her paintings, her clothes. "I can shop from Sunny's Surplus to the Yves Saint Laurent boutique," she says. "As far as the hair cutters' and the gay world is concerned, you're on top of the fashion world." She has a lilac-point Siamese cat named Esmerelda and a seal-point Siamese cat named - with brawny proletarian insouciance - Robespierre.She rents a $475-a-month apartment in Georgetown. "I own a lot of material things," she says. "I don't need any more in terms of building an empire. What I need is an education."

It has been a good living, the hair empire. A good life.

People are moving on.

"Georgetown," says Pierre Sarati, "stopped being fun about three years ago. Business started falling off because of suburbia. Britches, Georgetown Leather, Up Against the Wall - everybody's in the shopping centers. The West End! The West End is the next place. I still live in Georgetown. But I've sold all my businesses there."

If he had to give advice to a young rich hairdresser today, Sarfati says, I'd tell them to put their money into resorts. Gambling casinos. Atlantic City. Resort International stock."

"The world is more sobering now," says John Collison. "People got older, got a lot more business-minded. Easy money was not easy to come by."

Life is darker, more dangerous. Cafe Society was tunned earlier this year when Ray Urgo, a hair cutter at Bogart, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the bizarre killing in January of his woman friend.

Perhaps more widely felt was the bust, in March, of alleged cocaine dealers at The Palm Restaurant downtown on 19th Street. It has also sent rumors quivering into the street that Georgetown is the site of the next bust.

Howard Joynt, the proprietor of Nathan's, has opened a larger, more elegant Nathan's II in the 18th and M and Connecticut Avenue area, which revives more and more as Georgetowners fight the issuance of new liquor licenses there, Britches and E.F. Sly have come as well. "It's a coming place," says Joynt. "There are a lot more people walking around the night down here than there were five years ago."

About Georgetown, he says, "Within the next 18 months, a lot of businesses in precarious positions there will wash out." Echoing others, Joynt says many of the smaller businessmen there geared up for a Bicentennial onslaught of millions - who didn't show up.

Rising rents may also be driving the smaller businesses out of Georgetown. The pornography shop pays $5,000 a month rent. Building owner John Dashfari told one reporter, "Who else would pay me that much for that property?"

So what is it that the old New Capitalists want in the sobering '70s?

Jean Pierre Sarfati: an Italian restaurant near 18th and M.

Robert Novel: sighted at the Washington International Horse Show on opening night. In black tie.

John Collison and others of the gang at Nathan's: Broadway. Meanwhile they're moonlighting in New York. As waiters:

Barbara Harbaugh: Europe. Art school.

It used to take families three generations to do what Barbara Harbaugh has done socially, in 10 years. From the farm to the factory was one lifetime. From sweatshop to mercantile class was another. And finally the farm girl's children's children would have the time and leisure to study beauty bare. "We've all always wanted to actors, singer, playwrights, artists," she says. "Why now? It's simply breaking away at 30 to study your love."

The tragedy of Tribby's says it all.

Tribby's was a venerable jewelry store on M Street. It had, in its windows, such things as large silver carving platters and Waterford crystal punch bowls. Tribby's was sold to Hamburger Helmet. Everyone says it is the last straw. The mourned. They groaned. Even in New York, John Collison had heard about it. "The whole look was so beautiful," he says. "Old Victorian woodwork and glass. Hamburger Hamlet is OK. It's wonderful. But us Georgetown going to become as crass and ugly as it was when all the shoe stores were selling five-inch platform shoes?"

Can it be? Could it really be? That Georgetown Jeunesse, bumping, hustling, rip-snortin', wacko Georgetown Jeunesse, is beginning to sound like . . . the Georgetown Citizens' Association?

Olcott Deming mourns Tribby's too. He gets his suave silver hair cut - guess where?

At Flashback. "The hair cutters are interesting people," says Olcott Deming. "Emmett, who cuts my hair, collects art".