Treasury Secretary G. William Miller called last night's Wolf Trap Ball "a very austere setting." After all, the day before he'd called for a national belt-tightening to "wring inflation out of our system."
The "austere setting" in this case meant liquor and cordon bleu and stuffed cucumbers that cost an estimated $10,000 for the 380 people who attended the eighth annual eating and dancing benefit for the Wolf Trap Associates.
"I don't think this is a departure from austerity," Miller said as he deftly handled broccoli tempura with chopsticks ("I used to live in China").
"One of the things about Wolf Trap," Miller added, "is that it's the only national park for the performing arts -- and by being near Washington, it can serve all kinds of people, from all walks of life. This is not an elite affair."
Maybe not in his terms, but for the suburbanites who are the mainstay of Wolf Trap's support it was night of glitter and glamor. Not only did they get to wear feathers, sequins and maribou stoles like movie stars do, but they got to see the dessert [chocolate Mousse with strawberries, cake and whipped cream] paraded out to the theme from the Broadway musical "A Chorus Line" on the white-gloved hands of 32 white-hatted waiters.
The theme of the ball was "On Stage," and that's where it was -- the Filene Center stage. Lights were strung up across the stage, and even the piano was outlined in the soft glow.
"It's a fantasia on the stage," said Dennis Cory, an interior designer who spent three months working on it.
Adding to the fantasia was Mrs. Peter Ladd Gilsey, who arrived in white fringe and black feathers in keeping with the ball theme of "dressing for a favorite stage role."
"But I always look like this," she said. "I am me."
Her white hat with the black feather, she said, was "done by this fabulous milliner in Washington, you know, Bachrach. I walked in and I said I want this look, and she knew exactly what I wanted." The look was 1930 Mary Astor or 1797 nostalgia chic.
She wasn't the only one who wore feathers.
"You look like a Greek statute," Gabrielle Steers told a frequent tennis partner, Alexine Jackson, who in peace qiana and peach feathers looked like an elegant big bird.
"I found a place that sells all these things in Arlington," said Jackson the wife of a suburban urologist who termed herself "a professional volunteer."
"Well," answered Steers, a PhD and wife of former congressman Newton Steers, "I'm wearing last year's Yves St. Laurent. Now that I'm married I can't buy new things. I used to be a working girl with money."
At this point, Phil Day, a lawyer and another tennis partner, joined the group. "Didn't you like him better when he was fat?" Steers asked Jackson. "Now he looks elegant. Anybody can look elegant."
Not everyone was talking feathers and fat. The other topic of conversation was Sen. Edward Kennedy [D-Mass.] and his mother, who now reportedly will allow him to run for president.
"If he has his mother's permission, I certainly think he has mine," said Miller.
"I think Carter is dead," said Tom Hart, a vice president with Marriott Corporation and a former aide to Richard Nixon. "I think Kennedy would be a decisive leader and I'd take him over Carter."
The $75-a-head Wolf Trap extravaganza was devoid of its usual stars. Kay Shouse, Wolf Trap's benefactor, telephoned her best wishes early in the day. Elizabeth Taylor Warner, actress and senator's wife who has appeared at Wolf Trap functions in the past, didn't show. But her picture did.
Ashur Chavoor, an orthodontist from Arlington, brought pictures of himself with Warner from a Belgian embassy reception and passed them around to anyone who was interested.
"They say she's lost a lot of weight," said Catherine Griffin, a Falls Church real-estate agent who is one of those interested. "They say she looks lovely. I think even when she was heavy she was gorgeous."