"When you have a good thing, enjoy and wear it once, twice, three times, four, and more. Clothes you have in the closet should be good friends."

That bit of advice -- which could be the words of a mother turning down a daughter's request for a new outfit -- comes from Pauline Trigere, one of the quartet of top designers who talked fashion last night at the Second Annual Washington Post Fashion Symposium. By attending, the audience of about 2,000 contributed $15,000 for the benefit of The Hospital for Sick Children in Northeast Washington.

What about the trend to elegance, high style and the display of wealth, the designers were asked. Doesn't that make it a great time to be a high-fashion designer?

"I don't know about flaunting money," answered Norma Kamali. "Most people are still watching what they can afford for clothes -- after they pay the rent and buy food, in that order. There always have been people who could lavish their riches."

Kamali, who has made a name for herself by turning sweat shirting and down sleeping bags into fashion sell-outs, said she tries to keep the costs of most of her outfits under $100 to allow enough for the rent and the food.

The other designers, whose names are synonymous with high fashion, didn't make that claim. They did agree that elegance is nothing new and may simply be overexposed in the media now.

"There always has been a certain degree of elegance," Geoffrey Beene observed. "I think we also have at the same time an awareness of quality -- enduring quality. People are exercising a greater selectivity in what they buy."

Halston, famous for introducing Ultrasuede, has become a corporation with 32 business lines, including cosmetics, fragrances and a boutique line. Although his clients include such celebrities as Elizabeth Taylor, Liza Minnelli and Jacqueline Onassis, he says, "We are reaching out to a larger public. That's what exciting. We've become big business with tycoons."

The designers spoke about their business at a reception before the symposium at DAR Constitution Hall. The symposium, with the designers offering a slide show of their collections and running commentary, was moderated by Nina Hyde, fashion editor of The Post, who noted that fashions tells us "how we feel about ourselves -- and others."