Washington is always looking for new ways to define power, and having gone through titles, perks, salaries and office placement, maybe it's time to look down.

"I never realized if you wore something outlandish on your feet, people would pay attention," said Sen. Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.) at last night's preview of "Footprints of Power," a collection of photographs by Steven Dahllof depicting the tasseled loafers, apre s ski boots and deck shoes of the high and mighty.

Laxalt's portrait in the show, sponsored by the Footwear Industries of America, showed the senator's appendages in python boots. At the party, he went conservative -- plain old brown leather boots sufficed. But the pythons are home in the closet, presents from the grateful members of the shoe-producing community.

The show is a mild lampoon of former White House photographer Michael Evans' recent "People and Power: Portraits From the Federal Village," a collection of pictures depicting hundreds of well-placed Washingtonians, powerful expressions on each and every face, for posterity.

It's also the footwear association's annual event, following close on the heels of last year's fashion show, "There's No Business Like Shoe Business."

Lobbyists love things like funny photo exhibits and fashion shows, even when they cost up to $40,000, as the photo project and party did. After all, how many people are going to spend time seriously considering the American footwear scene without a little prodding?

But the 300 pairs of shoes attending last night's party at the Russell Senate Office Building could learn a lot about the role of footwear in contemporary America.

Shoe Fact No. 1: "Maine is the largest nonrubber footwear producer in the country," said Sen. William Cohen (R-Maine), one of the evening's hosts and chairman of the Senate Footwear Caucus. His foot was immortalized in a picture titled "Mysterious Foot" in which his tasseled slip-on rises above clouds of smoke, an allusion to the spy novel he recently wrote with Gary Hart.

Shoe Fact No. 2: "I used to be in the shoe manufacturing business myself," said Sen. Robert Kasten (R-Wis.), "except we made baby shoes -- you know, little white high tops."

Shoe Fact No. 3: "Look around," said John Stollenwerk, president of Allen-Edmonds Shoe Corp. of Port Washington, Wis., gesturing downward. "Things are much more conservative than they were five years ago. I think it started with the Reagan administration. Our business really started to go up because we're a traditional firm."

In the past, Stollenwerk said, "You'd have seen faster shoes instead of a perforated cap toe like this." He raised his perforated cap toe as illustration. "Look at all the brown shoes. You see a cap toe here, a tassel there."

Shoe Fact No. 4: The stiffening in the back of your shoe is called "the counter." In case you wanted to know.

Given the opportunity, you could also learn about the International Trade Commission's recommendations that quotas be imposed on imported shoes. White House Counsel Fred Fielding said the ITC proposal should reach the White House by July 1 for Reagan's consideration, but he wouldn't speculate about its fate. He did, however, make a point of announcing that he had not accepted the complimentary shoes offered by those friendly lobbyists.

Then he said, "I think I'll take my American-made shoes and go home."

It was the kind of event that inspired less-than-subtle jokes. Rep. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) wore fuzzy boots amid fake flakes scattered on her office floor. Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), cofather of the Bradley-Gephardt tax-reform bill, appeared in "Making Cents," a study in penny loafers. And Energy Secretary John Herrington wore sneakers titled "Energetic Feet."

Photographer Dahllof (in tassels with holes in the soles) captured former White House deputy chief of staff Michael Deaver and his wife Carolyn, both of whom are now in public relations, emerging from a glistening limousine, he in patent leather evening shoes, she in rhinestone-studded pumps.

Dahllof provided the exegesis.

"She's stepping out of the car," he said. "He's stepping out of the White House into a bigger role -- not politically -- but personally a bigger role."

There was at least one Teflon foot that escaped the inquiring photographer.

"I had the title: 'In the Saddle,' " Dahllof said. "He would have been in western riding boots. You would just have seen the foot in the stirrup."

Everyone connected with the show kept saying they were intrigued with portraiture possibilities of photo-pedelia. There were, however, some skeptics.

"I think it's ridiculous," said Agriculture Secretary John Block. "You look at those feet and there's no way of telling whose they are. You've seen one foot and you've seen them all."