Is it a parade, a masquerade or a charade?

This is what buyers are asking as they watch the shenanigans going on here in the name of French ready-to-wear. Now, along with the leather storm-trooper coats, Nazi caps and leather bras, another style is starting to emerge: the Joan Crawford big-shoulder look.

Washington women who can't wait to see one of their possible options for fall might make a quick trip to the Museum of History and Technology for the Adrian Retrospective. (Adrian designed Crawford's suits in the '30s.)

The Paris crop of suits and dresses, not as snug-fitting as vintage Adrian designs, has a silhouette that is generally big on the top and tapered at the bottom. Among designers showing the look to buyers from all over the world (including 4,000 from America) was Jean Claude de Luca.

Although what is called "aggressive fashions" - the strident leather look - is being stressed here (as it was in Italy), it is not the only show in town. A Dior, Mugler and Pablo et Delia, there ae nifty schoolgirl dresses and at Georges Rech some trim suits that even John Molloy ( author of "Dress for Success") would approve. Pantsuits are everywhere.

But meanwhile, its April in Paris, with the trees turning green, the parks jammed, the stores crowded and a mood of optimism in the air. So why the war games on the runway?

"It's the politics. When I designed the clothes it was before the elections and the mood was different," said Claude Montana, who came out with heavy chains on black leather jackets and coats.

"The general effect before the election was one of scare, apprehension for the future and the designers were inclined to view everything in terms of catastrophe, Nazi menace and things like that," said a 50-year Israeli observer of the French political scene.

It's no wonder that buyers are confused, particuarly when the clothes they see in the showroomd are often toned-down versions of what they see on the runways. In other words, more "normal," not so exaggerated.

"If I had seen the show before going to the showroom," said buyer Ellen Saltzman after the Thierry Mugler show, "I never would have bought the clothes for Saks."

"So far it is all too much costume and nothing to do with reality," sniffed Joan Harwood, chairman of the board of Tobe and Associates, a weekly report and fashion merchandising service to stores including Neiman-Marcus, Hecht's and Woodward & Lothrop.

Buyer Kal Ruttenstein of Bloomingdale's disagrees. "We use Paris to lioerate our thoughts. When we see the extreme we can decide if we like it or not, or if we like some of it," he said. "Sometimes it is nice to see things pushed to their limit."

He's in the right place for that.