You can say what you will about the Reagan administration, but you can't deny it has turned Washington into the fashion capital of the world. All it took was a rich first lady from California and her richer California friends, and suddenly this dusty, peanut-farming, Amaretto drinking town turned into a land of lynx and sable.
The new California, "laid back look" has affected everyone.
I went to buy a hot pretzel the other day from my favorite stand on K Street, when I noticed that Mary had a new look. Her frayer sweater had been patched all over with ultra-suede, her muffler was thrown back across her shoulder, her wool Redskin hat was perched on top of her head like a pillbox, and she was wearing white gloves as she made change.
"Mary," I said, "you look absolutely smashing in that outfit."
"Bill Blass designed it for me," she said. "I adore his lunch-time things.'
"May I have a pretzel please?" I asked.
She handed me one wrapped in a page from last month's Vogue magazine and accepted my 50 cents.
"Don't get me wrong. I don't have anything against Adolfo. As a matter of fact, I'll probably change into one of his suits when I move my cart over to Lafayette Park later this afternoon."
"I didn't know you were into fashion, Mary," I said.
"We all are," she replied. "Thank heavens we have somebody to set a standard in the White House. Let's hope the sidewalks of Washington will no longer be filled with uncombed hairdos, messy gold chains and raggedy jeans."
"People do look a lot more pulled together since the Reagans moved into Washington," I said, as I ate my pretzel.
"Oscar de la Renta is supposed to stop by and show me some fabric for a coat I'm having designed for when I sell pretzels outside the F Street Club."
"I like Oscar's things," I said.
"Myra says she prefers Jimmy Galanos, but I don't think he's right for pretzels."
"What does Myra sell?"
"Carnations at 18th and Pennsylvania Avenue. She found her first Galanos gown at Goodwill Industries, and she's been loyal to him ever since."
"Isn't keeping up with the Reagans going to be quite expensive?" I asked her.
"I'll probably be criticized by some of the other pushcart dealers, but I think when you have money you should spend it any way you want to. It's been a long time since we women have been permitted to dress up, and i'm going to make the most of it."
"I don't blame you," I said. "I notice you're wearing a skirt. You always used to wear pants in the wintertime."
"Pants are out," Mary said. "Particularly at lunch time. If Women's Wear Daily took a picture of me in pants, I'd never hear the end of it. The important thing is for clothes to match. Ruffles are replacing sequins. That's why my sweater is so ruffled."
"Who designed the Redskin wool hat for you?"
"Yves Saint Laurent. He said he wanted me to have something that was not glitzy or show-off, and it's perfect if you miss your hairdresser's appointment."
I decided to have another pretzel.
"I don't want to be critical," I said, "but I notice you're still wearing crepe-soled boots."
"That was Halston's idea. He said it was the best way of showing the Californians that we in the East have a laid-back look too, and we intend to stick with it."
"He's right," I said. "There's no reason for the Californians to shove Gucci shoes down our throats."
A man came by with his hairbrush. Mary introduced him to me as Julius, her hairdresser. "He always comes by right after the lunch hour to give me a comb-out. If it weren't for darling Julius, I don't know when I'd find the time to sell pretzels."