Ostensibly, the inaugural ball at Union Station last night was a chance for several thousand friends, politicians, big spenders and Democratic faithful to put on their party clothes and throw back a few canapes. But clearly, something more impressive took place when Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon arrived in black taffeta and dangling earrings. Call it style.

After all, everybody who is anyone knew that her black and red gown was designed by her older daughter, Aimee, a fashion major at the Rhode Island School of Design. There must have been a family conspiracy of sorts; the female members of the Dixon clan all wore red. "We were advised to wear something that would complement our mother's dress," said Drew Dixon, a junior at Stanford University, who wore a red strapless dress by Victor Costa.

The mayor's sister, Benaree Wiley, had on a red strapless dress too, though the designer's name momentarily escaped her. As for Aimee, her dress was a shimmering red satin sheath. "I really don't like designing clothes for myself," she said, surveying the crowd at a private reception before the ball. Not that anyone could tell. Amid all the sequins, lame' and so-what black cocktail dresses, the Dixon contingent looked pretty swish.

"Fabulous! Outstanding!" is how the mayor's steady companion, James Kelly, put it. He wasn't exactly a fountain of words as he pushed through the crowd -- part bodyguard, part Moses -- ahead of Dixon. But he made his point and Dixon, for her part, was clearly pleased with her daughter's mayoral contribution.

"I just did what she told me," the mayor said. "It was easy."

On the whole, the fashion statement of the evening was black cocktail with flourishes of lace and sequins. "That's exactly why I wore blue," explained Gretchen Underwood, a high school principal from Boston who is a friend of the mayor's sister. It was no accident that her off-the-shoulder sequinned gown, not to mention her hair and shoulders, were sprinkled with glitter.

"I just shook it out of bottle like a salt shaker," said Underwood, who also had a butterfly tattoo on her shoulder. "I'm from Boston and a lot of people in Boston wear glitter."

Samuel D. Ewing, an investment banker, wore an African scarf over his tuxedo. "I'm wearing it because my wife gave it to me for Christmas," he said. "And because I'm very conservative." His wife Brenda, whose navy and black gown was a dead ringer for the Scaasi gown that Barbara Bush wore to the presidential inaugural ball in 1989, said that such a scarf is normally worn by African royalty. And did her husband feel particularly royal?

"Ma'am, I'm not going to answer that question," he said, quite diplomatically.

Michelle Darden, who scheduled Dixon's appointments during the campaign, was doing her part to hold up the fashionable end of things. "I feel like I'm making quite a statement in this dress," said Darden, in a black velvet shift with strands of pearls at her neck. "Another reporter just stopped me." Apparently, she had some assistance in buying the dress from Sterling Henry, the mayor's former advance man.

"He can tell you everything," gushed Darden, as she moved off into the crush.

Henry rose to the occasion. "You can quote me on this," he said. "When I first saw her in this dress, she didn't have on stockings, shoes or jewelry." He grinned and leaned closer. "Let me tell you, I was moved."