Inaugurations around here are typically lavish affairs, a rare stab at glamour for politicians, the unglitziest of celebrities.

And there were indeed a great many starchy tuxedos and sequined berets and beaded floor-length gowns gliding around the Old Post Office Pavilion last night at Mayor Anthony Williams's "People's Inaugural Celebration."

But the black ties were far outnumbered by folks scattered about sampling a buffet, a{grv} la Taste of D.C. Many of the nearly 3,000 citizens wore Nikes and pinstriped work suits, ribbed turtlenecks and black Parasuco jeans as they grooved to the go-go band Sugar Bear and the Hip Huggers.

The pulsing conga drums -- along with the open floor plan and cathedral ceilings -- spoke of a wild, sweaty night. But the dance floor was mostly empty until a 77-year-old former beauty queen from Southeast jolted it to life.

Wearing a brilliant red suit and matching hat, Doris A.M. Thomas, Ms. District of Columbia Senior '92, worked her way around a semicircle of tables, beckoning the crowd to join her on the dance floor. Several giggling teenage girls soon followed, and by the time Sugar Bear launched "Da Butt" -- a 1988 hit with his previous group, E.U. -- with a cry of "Eee-yay eee-yay!" the marble floor was pulsing with movement.

"Anthony Williams got a big ole butt!" Sugar Bear shouted out.

Nope. This inauguration was not in any way typical -- and that's exactly how Williams wanted it.

"On the campaign trail, all we kept thinking of was ways to bring the people together," the bow-tied Williams explained between nibbles of crab cake. "In the economy that we're having, it's more appropriate to have something more low-key."

The People agreed.

It was a breath of fresh air for Scott Saunders, a 33-year-old network engineer who lives on Capitol Hill. "That's what this town is about: presentation," he said. "This is personal. I mean buffet-style -- you can't get more personal than that. [Williams] doesn't seem to need all the bells and whistles."

Still, other partygoers wouldn't have begrudged the mayor of a perennially disrespected city a little razzle-dazzle.

"I would have the People's Celebration and several lavish affairs," said Michael Clark, the District's 17-year-old youth mayor. "Just to let people know that D.C. is a first-class city. We know it, but we have to show everyone else in the world."

But even the usual orgy of glitter and self-congratulation wouldn't begin to compensate for the drudgery the D.C. pol endures on the path to inauguration day. Think about it. The candidate has to schlep door-to-door, kiss snotty babies, clasp sweaty hands -- not to mention sorting through all those petition signatures. Then consider what awaits the just-crowned civil servant: budget shortfalls, a belligerent workforce and endless two-bit psychobabbanalysis by journalists. Is a lone binge of champagne-sipping and air-kissing too much to ask?

"We have one of the hardest-working cities," said Kamilah Martin, a 26-year-old consultant from Petworth. "Some of the hardest-working D.C. government employees. We have one of the hardest-working mayors. It should be a stately affair. This is the nation's capital. People should be here dressed to the nines."

Williams's predecessors seemed to understand this, and juiced the occasion for all it was worth. Sharon Pratt Kelly may have predicted her political fate with her inaugural blowout at Union Station. Who needs a second term when you've already spent nearly a half-mil throwing the definitive inaugural bash?

It took Marion Barry four days and $250,000 to celebrate his reelection victory in 1987 -- and two years later he was still paying for it. Then after his 1994 election following a prison gig, Barry hosted a party commensurate with perhaps his sweetest victory: a chichi $1,000 to $10,000 reception for contributors as well as a $50-a-head event with 2,000 revelers.

Williams, on the other hand, likened his first inauguration to Andrew Jackson letting rioting commoners into the White House during his first inaugural festivities.

The free tickets doled out to last night's 3,000 guests -- first come, first served -- was Williams's way of continuing the tradition.

The day of activities, which included an inaugural breakfast at the Hyatt Regency, the swearing-in ceremony at the Warner Theatre and the Post Office Pavilion party, cost about $200,000 -- all paid by private companies and donors.

"It's not just for the people who voted for the mayor," added Youth Mayor Clark. "It's not just for the people who worked on his campaign. It's supposed to be a way to celebrate everyone in our city."

It did the trick for Dwayne Scott. The 35-year-old computer engineer from Capitol Hill normally can't stand political events. "I'm a people person, but I try to stay away from stuffy affairs," he said.

But there he was last night, in a smart turtleneck and suit, munching on curried chicken.

"He gets a really bad rap for a lot of things," Scott said of Williams. "It's really hard to come in and change something when people are used to things being a certain way for so long. I think he knows he can't stand alone. He needs the people."

Diana Hernandez and Miguel Jarquin-Moreland get into the party rhythm.D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, left, doing the Electric Slide at last night's "People's Celebration." The mayor and his wife, Diane Williams, thank the crowd at the Old Post Office Pavilion for their support.