Eric Schneider tapped his wife Claudine (R-R.I.) on the shoulder as she applauded the suede minis on stage in the Washington Hilton Ballroom last night. "Keep asking yourself, would you wear them on the floor?"

Miniskirts were the exception in the rather conservative collection of clothes presented last night by the Federation of Apparel Manufacturers, the warm-up to an evening of lobbying, eating, drinking, entertainment and more eating at buffet tables that circled the room as part of the New York State Festival salute to members of Congress.

The press was barred from a reception before the show. "The major purpose of tonight is to improve relations between New York and Congress. If we let the press in it would be a distraction," said Richard Brown, coordinator of the event.

He was backed up by Charles Rep. Rangel (D-N.Y.), a festival adviser who suggested that the press -- at that moment there were two reporters asking for permission to enter -- "might mean the ballroom would have more people than it could accommodate."

"I've never heard of a more ridiculous thing," said Rep. Dan Glickman (D-Kan.) when asked if the presence would bother him. He came, he said "because my wife Rhoda remembered this was one of the best parties we've been to." They attended the same event two years ago, the only other time it was presented.

"We just wanted to show our government that we don't need imports to dress our nation," said Kurt Barnard, executive director of FAM, which represents 5,500 New York clothing manufacturers. Barnard had not heard that Nancy Reagan was loaning some dresses from New York designers, but he heartily approved the of idea. "She makes a fine advertising medium," he said.

"I wouldn't mind her getting clothes free ," said Rangel. "If she would just show some compassion for the people who have no clothes at all.