On one of the crisp days of late February, a young woman stopped by vendor Park Tae-Young's stand on Connecticut Avenue near K Street, admired a number of scarfs and bought a mauve-and-white kaffiyeh, a trendy version of the Arab scarf very apparent in news pictures recently. The woman wrapped the scarf around her head, flipped it over the shoulder of her camel-hair polo coat and started to walk down the street back to her office.

"I like the color, it's cheap {$6} and it's warm," said the woman, who asked that her name not be used. "But I'll take it off before I get back to the office. It's too big a statement for this law firm."

Fashion has long spun off front-page headlines, in as general a way as Nancy Reagan red or as specific as bullet belts in the late 1960s. And the kaffiyeh, which has been selling well at Washington vendor stalls most of the winter, has been popular on the fashion scene before. Designer Geoffrey Beene, who likes to use accessories he buys from street vendors, used the traditional black-and-white kaffiyeh in a fashion show in 1981. "I had no idea what it was. I just liked the pattern and the fringe," said the designer after his show.

About the same time kaffiyehs began to show up in stalls and in a few Georgetown boutiques but sold much more slowly then than now. John Wilson, a student who had success selling them at Cambridge University and started importing them to Washington back then, was one of five guests wearing them to Halloween parties at the time. "It underscored how much the Arab presence is felt in Washington," he concluded then.

Today most of those buying the scarfs are aware of the Arab connection. Like Nora Arkelian, who works for the Westin Hotel and has worn hers for more than a month. "I don't think about what it represents, I just like it," she says.

According to Tony Park, manager of Limpsig Imports, which brings in the scarfs from Syria and elsewhere, black-and-white versions of the style are more popular than red-and-white or pastels for the moment. Since the early winter, he's been selling 15 to 20 dozen weekly to vendors around the city. Vendor Tae-Young on Connecticut Avenue figures his sales run about a half dozen weekly -- these days more pastels than strong colors.

Karyn Haskins says she just "saw it on television, then saw it on the street and just got it." She was wearing hers tucked into her pressed leather jacket neckline, but often wears it over one shoulder or around her head.

Everyone in Gwendolyn Jackson's family owns one, says the secretary from the Executive Office Building. She got hers as a gift last year, in black-and-white to go with her black-and-white tweed coat.

Alex Dixon, a student in finance and computers at American University, got his this semester. "You see so many of them around the campus that you want to have one," said Dixon. "I suppose it's become a political statement of support for the Palestinians," he theorizes. "But to me, I wear it just because I like it."