Strictly speaking, the Christmas tea at the Park Hyatt Hotel yesterday was a little girls' party, what with all the Mary Janes, hair bows and velvet frocks. But Brad Ross IV was certainly holding up the male end of things. The 7-year-old was wearing red tartan shorts and no, he didn't have to be arm-wrestled into this natty decision.

"He wanted to wear the shorts," explained his mother, Robinette. "They're from Harrods."

Of course, it probably was no small coincidence that Brad's father, William B. Ross III, also wore plaid pants, though not the short kind. "We're Rosses," he noted gallantly, flashing the family crest on his navy blazer. And like father like son: both were wearing pinstriped Oxford cloth shirts with their tartans, a collision that didn't seem to bother either of them.

"No, not at all," said the senior Ross, pleased that someone would notice the effect.

The occasion for this familial finery was a benefit performance by the Washington Ballet of "The Nutcracker," that familiar holiday tale of mice, men and sugarplum fairies. Afterward, the cast joined the guests at the Hyatt, where dresses were compared between mouthfuls of ice cream, cookies and the inevitable cucumber sandwiches.

Tiffany Donaldson and Davlyn Grant were over by a large wooden toy soldier discussing how many teeth they had lost, which at age 5 is a serious matter. As it happens, they both arrived in identical velveteen dresses with ribbon sashes, which if they were 45 would be considered something of a social letdown. But their vision in double only made them hams for the camera. Davlyn revealed two missing teeth and Tiffany pointed one Mary Jane, model-like.

"All I have to do is say I'm going to take a picture and she's camera-ready," said her mother, Winnie, sighing. "She even loves to get dressed up for school."

Among little girls, the preferred party attire is, without question, the continental dress. Long enough to hide booboos and other playground casualties, this classic frock is an innocent throwback in a world of leggings, neon sweat shirts and $100 sneakers. Doused with snowflake lace, gussied up with satin ribbons and worn with pristine white tights, it is the ultimate choice for the littlest party princess in town. And mothers like it too.

"It has cachet, I suppose," said Libby Stanley, watching her daughter Amelia balance a plate of cookies while a photographer took her picture.

"Smile!" instructed Amelia's father, Gary, in a bow tie. "Say cheese!"

Amelia did not have any particular thoughts about the other dresses in the room, and she appeared quite satisfied, for a 5-year-old, that her red velvet dress (the same one she wore last year) was among the prettiest. "Except for the sugarplum fairy's costume," allowed Amelia.

Evelyn Slaughter was about to take a bite out of a chocolate eclair -- its cream filling headed straight for her polka-dot taffeta dress -- when her mother, Meredith, noted that occasions such as this call for a new dress. "Normally, she's in sweat pants," said Mom. "But she picked out this dress. Show us your petticoat, Evelyn." Evelyn, all of 4, picked up the hem of her dress, pointed the proverbial toe and revealed a mound of crinoline. The eclair remained intact.

Considering the number of cream puffs, plates of ravioli and tilting bowls of M&M sundaes maneuvering around the ballroom, it was some kind of miracle that there weren't any noteworthy fashion disasters. Shirttails came untucked, hair bows went unraveled, but by the time everyone had put on their coats and tied their matching hats, the only people who looked at all frazzled were the waiters who had to clean the mess up.