Every day after school, teen-age girls in private-school plaid skirts and crisp white blouses stop by Commander Salamander to smear on leopard lipstick, dab on purple day-glo eye shadow, add a touch of neon orange rouge and spray their hair in rainbow colors.
"Should I do my hair blue today?" one might ask, or, "Will purple go better with my new pants?"
"Daughters come in on Fridays and get their hair sprayed for the weekend," said Tim Plett, a sales clerk at the Georgetown boutique. "Then their mothers come in on Saturday nights to get their hair sprayed before they go out on the town."
People go to Commander Salamander, at 1420 Wisconsin Ave. NW, for all kinds of reasons -- to buy, to touch or to try on. But curiosity probably reigns as the No. 1 attraction.
"We have everything, from Frederick's of Hollywood to punk," said Lawrence Glass, a sales clerk by day, musician by night.
"I'm not opposed to carrying anything. It doesn't even have to be clothing," said Wendy Ezrailson, the co-owner and chief buyer at the city's most avant-garde boutique.
"If it's happening, I want it, and I want it first. I'll go anyplace I have to," insisted Ezrailson, who travels regularly to New York, California, London and Paris to buy for the store.
"This is a tourist spot," said Plett, in his thick English accent. "You get people from Alaska coming here for the first time, and they know all about the store. They even know the names of people who work here."
Some visitors come because they have seen the small Commander Salamander mail order catalogue. Others have heard about the store from friends.
Jim Stahl of Wilmington, N.C., led his five-month-pregnant wife Beth to the store on his recent business trip to Washington.
"He came here a year and a half ago," Beth Stahl explained. "He said quote, unquote, 'Everybody needs to see it once.' "
After her "once," all she could mutter was, "This is really something."
Beatrice Caffarelli, visiting the city from Naples, dropped in the store the same day to buy some more mascara.
"I bought green yesterday," she explained. "They have colors that you can't find in Italy."
At Commander Salamander, there is an overwhelming variety of most things. If it's socks you want, choose from a selection that includes paisley, pastel, neon, wool, lace and stretch.
If it's the unusual you crave, how about a $300 bright yellow rabbit fur jumper? A raspberry wig highlighted by strands of gold? A pair of handcuffs with keys, for $8 a pair? A $52 novelty watch that doesn't keep time because there's a teeny, tiny jogger inside instead of a watch?
The outrageous and the unusual now sells in Washington, and Commander Salamander's more than $1 million in annual sales attests to it.
"I can come in here and buy something and not expect to see everyone else on campus wearing it," said Stacy Burke, an American University student, who admitted, though, " . . . Some of the things are a bit too outrageous for me.
"But they have fun things," added Burke, who bought a $140 bulky sweater with oversized appliques. "Halloween, this place is rocking like crazy."
David Jennings, 16, walked in looking very much at home in his tall, blond, spiked hairdo and his bizarre sunshades with lenses that looked like the mechanical innards of a watch.
"I used to come here regularly until I moved to Valdosta, Georgia," said Jennings. "I'm the only one who looks like me there."
On this day, Jennings, another friend and their teacher had sneaked away from their school tour group to drop by Commander Salamander.
Jim Hart, in a white shirt and gray tie, left his job at a Dupont Circle publishing company to stop in the store (his first visit) and pick out a birthday gift for a friend.
"I bought a couple of T-shirts, one Rasta type and one procommunist type," he said, laughing. "That way I got all my bases covered."
Irving Kelly, a 12-year-old pupil at Hardy Middle School, ran through the store with two friends.
"I come in here sometimes after school, when I ride the bus to the movies," he said. "Their clothes are wacky. Their hairdos are wacky.
"I brought my mom in here, but she said I was too young to get anything in here," he said, adding, "I like the belts, the sunshades, the jackets and the Commander Salamander ties."
The music is constant, pouring out of the disc jockey booth in the store.
Employes bring in records from their personal collections of reggae and rock -- UB40, Killing Joke, The Stranglers, The Smiths and a lot of others.
On Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights the store stays open to midnight.
Plett said, "We turn the music up, and people come in from the bars to party."