View Photo Gallery: A flood of glamorous inaugural balls and partisan celebrations are set to play out in the District over the next couple weeks. Both black-tie events and less-formal bashes offer a chance to exercise your freedom of expression. Use this guide for ideas, then go find less-expensive versions.

These are fiscal cliff times. If even the president and first lady are extending austerity measures to include their ball-going, imagine what inauguration means for those of us paying Washington rents. One inaugural ball — $275 tickets, $500 dress, $20 for the coat check — is all a girl needs to fall into the financial morass. So this year, skip the designer dresses (or just rent them), make friends with the jewelry rack at Forever 21, and still look grand for the ball.

The dress

Let’s focus, for a moment, on the floor-length number so often called for at black-tie affairs. If you’re going to a ball, official or unofficial, department stores such as Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus will have what you’re looking for. If you’re reticent to make a huge investment in a gown, consider raiding Rent the Runway , an online site that allows you to rent floor-length gowns ideal for high-profile soirees; I checked today and found a stunning one-shoulder black Halston Heritage dress for $125, a jewel-green Sachin + Babi goddess dress for $175 and a saucy, Nicole Kidman-esque red Carmen Marc Valvo dress also for $125. The site, which offers up to size 12 in several dresses, but skews small, allows you to keep the dress for four days.

Interested? Living Social is hosting a Rent the Runway event at its 918 F Street space today through Sunday, so you can get a closer look at some of the dresses, and get a discount on rentals.

If you have time to burn, scour the off-price shops. Remember Post columnist Donna Britt, who in 2009 landed a Calvin Klein gown for $4.98? That could be you. In particular, try Nordstrom Rack stores in Gaithersburg or Friendship Heights, and Lohmann's , which has three locations near Washington. Don’t forget to check several locations, in case one has a gem the others don’t.

If you’ve got a little more money to spend on a gown, head to the BCBG Max Azria shop in Georgetown. The shop is carrying several fashion-forward gowns and accessories, and all are under $600. The secret to saving hundreds of dollars might be to stay away from heavily beaded or sequined numbers, which can cost considerably more. Instead, stick with basic dresses in lux, high-impact colors like bright red and cobalt blue. I fell hard for a thigh-baring dress in innocent peach that’s all business in the front, party in the back and just $348. Another hot pick: A simple but juicy red-pink one-shoulder crepe dress that’s been a big seller and rings up at less $400.


For inauguration, there are three accessories to know: the bag, the bauble and the comfortable shoe. Several Metro stations will be closed on inauguration day, including the one closest to the official balls at the Convention Center. So a lightweight, tiny bag that you don’t mind carrying, but can fit your phone, a lipstick, gum and a few essentials is a must. This year’s most fashion-forward shape is a miniaudiere, or box bag, that was made for events like these. Find them at Cusp, BCBG, and for a little more of a bargain, Zara stores.

Flats will make you a much-happier person during inaugural weekend. But if you refuse to do even a pretty jeweled flat, run over to H&M and scoop up a pair of the suede-look and metallic-snake platform shoes that were on sale this week for just $20. Whatever you do, don’t wait till the ball to wear your shoes for the first time; break them in early.

If you’re sticking with a simple, solid gown in particular, go big on jewels. Ornate, deco styles are trendy now, so you’ll be able to scoop up glitzy, ball-appropriate styles at shops you’d never imagine. H&M, again, has a variety of big chunky necklaces for a bargain, but the quality has looked a little better at Forever 21; check out the selection at the Fashion Centre at Pentagon location, in particular, for great finds under $15. If you’d like to invest in a piece you’ll wear again, try J.Crew, which is carrying stunning, antique-looking jewels that will surely finish any gown and run right around $118.  


The budget girl is pretty DIY about her makeup, but if a smokey eye is not in your repertoire, Sephora takes appointments for makeup application. Rather than pay a fee, you’ll have to buy a $50 gift card, but you can then use that toward any products you want, at any time. (May we recommend blowing at least part of it on the Sephora Trend Tips, for a easy mani that people will talk about all night long?) As of Wednesday night, the Georgetown store still had appointments available for Jan. 18, Jan. 19 and Jan. 20, when many of the major galas will be held.

Blue Mercury also had appointments on Jan. 19 and Jan. 20. There, you can kill two birds and make your visit a makeup lesson, so you can learn how to do event makeup for the next time there’s a swearing-in, or the next time you’re going to the club. You’ll have to buy three items from the store.

More inauguration coverage from The Post

What you need to know about inauguration

Beyonce to sing “The Star Spangled Banner” at inauguration

Smithsonian opens (bathroom) doors for inauguration watchers

More tickets available to the Chefs Ball

State Society inaugural balls: What are they and which ones are worth it?

More inauguration news from The Washington Post

Inauguration events from the Going Out Guide