The talk at a party was of cycles in fashion. Someone turned to Ruth Todd, 19, and said, "Your mother could have worn the suit you have on."

"She did," said Todd.

Passing clothes on may have started for economic reasons, but it is bringing today's roots-hungry generation far more.

"It's a piece of history passed down," said Todd, Queen Anne, Md., whose family has farmed in the Baltimore areas since the 1960s.

"Like people wanting to furnish their home with antiques, it's a bit of nostalgia. Everything's moving ahead so fast I think we need little remembrances of our past to remind us of what was."

Artist Claudia Vess, 29, finds taht second-time -around fashion matches her artistic philosophy.

"I like finding old things and recycling. My collages are about taking things that people donht think about or think are beautiful and giving them a new life. I guess that's the neat thing about being able to wear these clothes, to give them a whole new life."

An added twist is that Vess works at Dumbarton Oaks in the same area of Georgetown where her mother and grandmother lived.

"It was kind of spooky at first, to wear the clothes my mother wore when she was young and in the same place," Vess said. "A couple of times walking through Montrose Park I've thought I could be my mother, the situation struck me as so similar."

One of her favorite items is a black wool jacket she remembers seeing her mother wear when she took her sledding.

"I realized where my mother was during the period she had the black jacket. She was married and had started a family. When I wore it, I was trying to find a job."

Jill Leibowitz, 19, New York, whose maternal grandmother left her native Turkey as a teen-ager and settled in Cuba, has inherited from her a collection of handmade Cuban blouses.

"I think it's cool that the clotehs are from there and not here," said Leibowitz, who has finished her sophomore year at the University of Maryland. "They say something about my family and where they are from."

Asked how her grandmother reacted to her wearing the delicate blouses with dungarees, she said: "I think she'd rather have at least half of me dressed nicely . . . I think she gets more of a kick out of my wearing the blouses than I do."

And what will this generation pass on?

Bluejeans? CAPTION: Picture, Claudia Vess, left, in a dress mother, center, once wore; Jill Leibowitz, right, in her grandmother's blouse. Photos by Harry Naltchayan and Tom Allen