She's got the hair, the nails, the look. And if she's walking out of a District beauty salon this week, she may also have the condom--in an elegant black and gold compact that looks perfectly at home in any lady's purse.

Inside, the well-groomed woman will find a mirror, instructions for condom use and advice urging her to insist that her partner use protection as a sign of respect. "If he says no, you should say no," the miniature accordion-folded brochure says.

The city has distributed 300 such "ConPacts" to each of 25 beauty salons in African American neighborhoods across the city, the latest public health marketing gimmick from District officials fighting HIV and AIDS.

The city spent $10,000 on the pilot program, the first in the nation to take this tack. If it's deemed successful, the D.C. Administration for HIV/AIDS might distribute free condoms with similar marketing techniques to hundreds of District beauty salons and barber shops.

In this first round, said Ronald Lewis, the HIV/AIDS agency's director, the prevention staff thought beauty salons would be an ideal backdrop for women to talk openly about condoms because women often discuss intimate matters with their stylists.

"Women spend a lot of their discussion on personal issues in beauty salons, and they spend a lot of hours there," Lewis said. "We have an opportunity to participate in some of that dialogue."

The campaign is geared toward African American women because they are one of the fastest-growing HIV risk groups in the District, officials say. Twenty-nine percent of the District's new AIDS cases in 1998 were black women, up from 19 percent in 1996. Over the nearly two decades of the epidemic, 18 percent of all the people with AIDS have been black women.

So far the compact campaign has caused no customer objections and is an unqualified success, several salon operators said.

"They have done a great job of not making the compacts look so tacky," said Helen Durham, 52, owner of Crimpz at Seventh and M streets NW in the Mount Vernon Square area.

"I am very happy to say they are going quite well," she said. "At first, I was worried. I was thinking, 'Am I advertising sex, or what am I doing?' But once I saw the packaging of it, I'm happy I did."

At Du'N-It-Up Hair Design in Anacostia, manager Rhonda Montague said the condoms are going quickly.

"People like the fact that it's a compact and they are able to put it in their purses," Montague said. "I've also been able to give them refills. I try to give them three at a time."

Durham said she has heard no complaints, but there was one moment when a 7-year-old girl saw the display.

"She said, 'I want some makeup,' and it popped open, and the mother just turned colors," Durham said. "Her mom grabbed it so fast, before we could say, 'You don't want that, honey.' "