Those who happened to ask were told that dress for last night's inaugural celebration was "black tie optional." Most opted for one notch down from black tie, with the men mostly in impeccably tailored three-piece suits, the women often more randomly put together in disco pants and tunics or mid-calf-length dresses.

"The shorter dress is simply easier to get around in," said Howard University student Janice Price, who was wearing a mid-calf-length black silk dress.

For getting through the crowd (estimated at 7,000 by late evening) Price's escort, political researcher Charles Moore, in a black wool-and-silk, three-piece suit, had the help of a walking stick. He owns the tuxedo version of the black suit he was wearing but felt the less formal version was more appropriate for last night's celebration.

If most of the guests opted for disco rather than "ball" clothes, there was nevertheless a healthy spattering of furs, feathers and flashy sequins. A popular accessory for both young and older women guests was a sequined cap.

Garginckel's executive Bonnie Wilson wore her sequins subtly in a camisole topeed by a satin blaxer and worn with a velvet skirt. Her husband, Councilman John Wilson, was in his usual impeccably tailored three-piece suit, white collared shirt and striped tie.

Very few guests experimented with nontraditional or vintage clothing. An exception was Clarence Williams, an arts administrator who was wearing a 1940s tuxedo from a thrift shop and a family heirloom pin. Television director Chuck Nixon wore a black embroidered shirt and belt under his gray flannel jacket.

And for those who needed last-minute hair care, Fingertips, the Silver Spring hair salon, had set up shop in a room at the hotel and was doing a land-office business all day and into the evening.