It was a day for top hats and ear muffs.

After 16 years without a governor of their own, Virginia's Democrats swarmed into this city today to watch Charles Spittal Robb take the oath of office.

They didn't let a little cold and ice cramp their inaugural style.

Joe Smiddy drove 375 miles from the mountains of Wise County in temperatures "colder than a mother-in-law's hug." Onie Ellington of Charlotte County, wrapped herself in elegant fur. Alice DuBois had her own prescription for the 26-degree chill. "A slug of Geritol and a bottle of bourbon," said the 70-year-old Democrat from Virginia Beach.

Some of the 3,000 who crowded the slushy north lawn of Thomas Jefferson's Capitol for the ceremonies today said they were here to bear witness to present history. Others claimed to be looking ahead to history yet to unfold.

"We're seeing somebody on the way up who is going to be president," said Katherine Delk-Calkins, a 33-year-old nursing instructor from Richmond, one of the first to stake out a spot on the lawn below the inaugural grandstand. Three and a half hours before the start of the oath taking, speech making and bands marching, Delk-Calkins was holding a sign that read, "Virginia Home of Presidents."

On this day that began cold and dreary, Republican Gov. John N. Dalton, dressed in top hat and gray morning coat, took his last ride in the limousine with license plate No. 1. Dalton and his wife, Edwina, led a 24-car motorcade to the John Marshall Hotel where Robb and the incoming attorney general and lieutenant governor waited.

The ritual transfer of power was performed in an upstairs ballroom under oil portraits and crystal chandeliers. All the political chiefs wore cutaway coats and white carnations. The elaborate dress made some uncomfortable.

"I've never seen an American yet who looked good in a top hat," said Richard Davis, Virginia's new lieutenant governor. Even Lincoln, he said, wore a taller hat more fitting his unusually narrow face. Besides, said the 57-year Portsmouth ex-mayor, "Lincoln was Republican."

Lynda Bird Johnson Robb recalled a chilly January day in 1961 when, in the middle of John F. Kennedy's inaugural, House Speaker Sam Rayburn, an old friend of the Johnson family, asked her to "please stand in front of me and protect my bald head."

Downstairs in the lobby, the less famous were swapping their stories--about the days when all inaugurals in Virginia were Democratic affairs. "This will be my seventh," said Ken Asbury, a former commonwealth's attorney from Wise County. "My first was Colgate Darden's in 1941. I skipped all the Republicans in between."

To commemorate the event, a North Carolina company was selling "Virginia Inauguration" buttons at $3 each. Even Lynda Robb succumbed to the lure of memorabilia. "Get us each one for our scrapbook," she told an aide as she swept through the crowded lobby.

Back at the Capitol, half a mile from the John Marshall, the General Assembly was holding a session before for a crowded gallery of family, friends and honored guests. The Senate even acted on a few resolutions, including one "relating to steering gear of motor vehicles." When the session was over, the legislators walked out into the cold to await the return of the motorcade, this time carrying the state's new Democratic leaders.

"I remember the inauguration of Gov. Albertis Harrison," said Jacque Vance of Richmond. "I was standing with my father, wrapped in his coat." This time around, Vance had her own son, 6-year-old Brian, leaning against her legs and wrapped in a green blanket. Brian described himself as a "'publican" who is nevertheless fond of the new Democratic governor. In fact, said his mother, last Halloween, Brian went trick-or-treating as Charles Robb.

"I think these kids will see this man as president in their lifetime," she said.

With a Democrat in the governor's mansion and Democrats in charge in the General Assembly, a new harmony prevailed among the party's warring factions. Sitting side by side on the inaugural platform, for instance, were former state attorney general Andrew Miller and Henry Howell, one-time leader of the Democrat's liberal wing.

"It's like a homecoming," said Howell, who had kept his distance from Robb during the fall campaign. "We're like a large family: The children go their separate ways but at Thanksgiving, everybody comes together."