The invitations say black tie, and black tie it will be. And formal rental companies in the Washington area are gearing up for the arrival of out-of-towners looking for inaugural tuxes.

Local tux dealers say the color will be basic black, white shirts the unspoken rule. They do, however, expect customers to inject a little individuality into their inaugural dress -- one might see a red cummerbund or two or a few wing collars this time around, as the traditional tuxedo steps in where white tie trod four years ago.

Masters Tuxedo is receiving orders from as far as California. "People are asking for the classic styles, traditional and naturally conservative due to the Republican administration," says promotional director Terence Aselford. Business is "brisk and getting brisker every minute," he says, but with six warehouses at the ready, Masters will be able to supply tuxes to last-minute arrivals. "It pays to buy a tuxedo if one plans to be involved in this administration," says Aselford. "There will no doubt be ample opportunity to wear a tux over the next four years."

"We're not expecting a rush," says Frank Guarnieri, co-director of Gingiss Formalwear. "January is not busy." Although four years ago he had customers searching for white tie on inaugural eve, Guarnieri suspects that the increase in black tie events during this administration may have led many men who would otherwise have been part of the rental market to invest in their own formal wear. "When white tie was the rule four years ago, a tuxedo was the least formal attire," he says. "With the rule being tuxes this year, I wonder if anyone will wear a suit this time?"

At M. Stein & Co., "it's business as usual -- we're busy," says manager Dan Frederick. "People traveling prefer the convenience of renting a tuxedo when they get here. Others do not want to make the mistake of buying a tuxedo that will go out of style. Instead they simply continue to rent the latest styles."

The single-breasted tux is the most popular among the more conservative, Frederick says, but there have been requests for red cummerbunds. "Since it's a second inaugural, things are a little less formal than last time," he explains, referring to both the black tie balls and the semiformal swearing in, which will be business suit this time instead of gray morning suit.

Leonard Maites, vice president of Royal Formal and Bridal, says Washington has an ample supply of tuxedos, but "one needs the complete outfit to be properly accessorized. This includes formal shoes, which are very important -- plain slip-on patent leather shoes highlight the whole look of black tie." The most popular shirt, according to Maites, is white with a wing collar, which, he says, "knows no age barrier. It will definitely be a fashion statement at the balls." Ruffles are out completely, and colors are not being considered.

"We're not as busy as four years ago," says Israel Sheinbein, manager of Scogna Formal Wear. He believes that since the Republicans were criticized for the inaugural expense last time, they are playing it down this year. The store is expecting last-minute business, and as of now orders are coming in little by little. Single-breasted is the most popular tux here, and white flat-collared shirts are a favorite. There's also the rare request for a red cummerbund.

Business is the same if not better than four years ago at Woodward & Lothrop's formal shop. Customers are apparently showing interest in variations on black tie, with requests for red cummerbunds. Single- and double-breasted styles are equally popular, as are sales and rentals.

Men can rent just about everything they'll need for inauguration night, but those who want a boutonniere and comfortable shoes will have to remember to bring their own.