The whirl of seasonal social activity is about to intensify: Office parties, weddings, Christmas affairs and New Year's Eve balls. What's a pregnant woman to do? Or, more precisely, what's a woman, eight months' pregnant and ready to boogie, suppose to wear?

How about a sequined mini-dress or a cocktail dress in basic black, teal green or royal blue? Or what about something in black and gold, a combination that seems to be popular this year, according to Brian Green, one of the owners of Premaman, an upscale maternity shop in Falls Church and Rockville.

While there may not be a plethora of formal wear hanging from the racks of most area maternitystores, many shops, including discount outlets, carry a variety of styles to bedeck the most discriminating women-in-waiting. And, if you balk against buying an outfit you will wear only once, you can rent just about anything -- from tuxedo pant outfits to full-length gowns -- for that special occasion.

There is no need, say area maternity shop owners, for pregnant women to be under-dressed this holiday season. Maternity wear has undergone a steady transformation in color, fabric and style over the last five years, and the selection keeps getting better and more stylish, says one store manager.

If you can't find what you're looking for in a traditional maternity shop, chances are you could at Judy's Maternity Rental in Arlington.

Owner Judy Schramm offers a collection of more than 200 items in sizes from 4 to 20. She boasts of an assortment of sexy, dressy and creative clothing, including a create-your-own line with interchangeable skirts and tops.

"A lot of people come in and say 'This is the first time I have something to show off, and I want to show it off,' " says Schramm, who makes many of the fashionable rental garments. "Other people, when they go out, are used to feeling sexy and they still want that."

Schramm knows what it's like to be pregnant and to have to attend a special event in a less-than-desirable dress. Three years ago, while pregnant with her first son, she had to attend her company's semi-formal dinner-dance, her sister's graduation and a friend's wedding. She was on a budget and ended up with one dress for all the occasions. "People got pretty sick of seeing me in that dress," she recalls.

At the dinner-dance, there were six other pregnant women, Schramm says. "All of us were in clothing not as dressy as the other women."

When her son, Michael, was three months old, Schramm began her maternity rental business with a collection of 20 to 30 dresses. Now expecting a second child in January, Schramm's home-based venture is doing a steady business and receives referrals from several maternity shops in the area.

Schramm says she is the only one in the area area exclusively in the maternity formal wear rental business and one of the only two in the country. Most of her cocktail dresses rent from $45 to $75; evening gowns go for $60 to $100; bridesmaids dresses, from $50 to $70. Wedding dresses range up to $250 if formal.

Security deposits on the dresses range from $100 to $390 and are kept on a credit card-receipt until the dress is returned. Dresses usually are rented from Friday to Monday, Schramm says, adding that special week-long rates and frequency discounts are available.

She also has a clearance rack, which holds garments that rent for $35, and suggests that women on a budget can get a simple black skirt and rent a dressy top for about $30.

Premaman, which specializes in European-style maternity clothing, is the only retail store in the area that also rents evening wear. It's a customer service, not a profit builder, says Brian Green.

T-lengths and three-quarter-lengths, "mainly designed for the holidays," rent for $45 a night and are picked up on Friday and returned on Sunday. Optional insurance on a rental item is $5, which covers the cost of cleaning. A dress that is purchased wholesale for $150 is rented about three times, he says.

Green says his store also rents dresses appropriate for weddings and will special-order formal wedding gowns.

Premaman used to carry the fancier formal wear, Green says, but customers were resentful when they saw the price tag. A few would purchase dresses, wear them and return them, he says.

Some stores enforce a policy that sales on formal wear are final.

For those who prefer buying to renting, prices throughout the area for holiday or evening maternity wear range from $60 to $300.

At Page Boy in White Flint Mall and the Galleria at Tysons II, customers are paying from $150 to $600 for just the right look. Laura Breillada-roche says Page Boy, which manufactures and designs its own clothing, has one of the largest selections of formal wear in the area.

"There are some women who don't want to spend $300," says manager Breillada-roche. "There are others who say, 'I want to look my best' " and don't mind spending whatever it takes to project the look they want.Mary Jo Karczewski, regional manager for Mothers Work, says she has not heard any objections to her store's prices ($139 to $250) for evening wear. "We do very well with the holidays," she says. "A lot of styles have already sold out, and we are getting new ones in."

Whether you are looking for something sexy or simply dressy to wear this holiday season, chances are you can find it in one of the area's maternity shops. But if you cannot, Rosemary Reed at Toast & Strawberries says bring your fabric to her, give her two weeks and one of her three dressmakers will sew something for you.

Among other sources for holiday or evening wear:

Rentals

Judy's Maternity Rental, 2122 South Culpeper St., Arlington, 703-671-8158.

Premaman, 7257 Arlington Plaza, Falls Church, 703-280-2696; 11520-J Rockville Pike, Metro Pike Center, Rockville, 301-770-6463.

Maternity Stores

Dan Howard's Maternity Factory, 7506 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, 703-790-1221; 6230 Rolling Rd., Springfield, 703-644-5959; 11211-H Lee Highway, Fairfax Center, 703-273-3544; 10446 Auto Park Ave., Bethesda, 301-365-2200.

The Kangaroo Pouch, 9402 Pennsylvania Ave., Melwood Mall, 301-599-1123.

Maternally Yours, 18th and Eye St. NW, 202-293-6262, and 12111 Rockville Pike, 301-984-2537.

Maternity Mart, 6201 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, 703-241-0985.

Maternity Wearhouse Outlet, 7531 Greenbelt Rd., Greenbelt, 301-345-0555.

Motherhood, Montgomery Mall, Bethesda, 301-365-4770; Wheaton Plaza, Wheaton, 301-946-7417.

Motherhood Maternity, 6644 Springfield Mall, 703-971-7435.

Mothers Work, 1722 Eye St. NW, 202-833-1616; Fair Oaks Mall, 703-691-9155.

New Conceptions Maternity Boutique, 3301 New Mexico Ave. NW, 202-244-5100.

Page Boy Maternity, White Flint Mall, Rockville, 301-770-4313; Galleria at Tysons II, Tysons Corner, 703-827-0447.

Plus One Maternity Shop, 825-B Rockville Pike, Rockville, 301-340-3013.

Toast & Strawberries, 1617 Connecticut Ave. NW, 202-234-2424. -- Yvonne Shinhoster Lamb