ARLINGTON, Va. - Inauguration night is a fabulous time when the Who's Who of Washington put on their ballroom best and dance the night away, all gussied-up and fussed-over, looking good, smelling sweet and feeling hopeful.
But before the Who's Who can shake and shimmy their way into the bright future that lies ahead, many find they have something else to get right first: That darn bow tie.
"I only wear a bow tie once every four years," says Michael Brown, a Bush appointee at the Environmental Protection Agency, who was on his way to the Independence Ball, but needed Nordstrom's menswear clothing manager Jack Eggleston to help him with his patterned bow tie. "I just haven't mastered how to tie one."
And so it was handy then, that the Nordstrom department store in Pentagon City - just a few miles from all the festivities - was holding a "Drive-By Bow Tie," a complimentary service set up for people on their way to fete the commander-in-chief.
They pulled out a red carpet. Music played and champagne flowed. There was a makeup station, a shoeshine stand. Glamorous women strolled around with lint rollers, sewing kits, lotion and assorted fragrances. There was even a place to get your sleek up-do up-done.
"We want to assist our customers with all their needs, whatever those are," says Michelle Giles, a Nordstrom spokeswoman. "It's nice to have an occasion to get a little bit over the top."
Jennifer Doherty, a State Department exec, on her way to three balls, had stylist Giselle Zlotnitsky tuck her hair into an elegant and tight chignon at the back of her head.
"By the end of the night last night," Doherty, of D.C., says, of the four balls she attended on Wednesday, "it took about two or three friends at 5 in the morning to pick out all the pins."
Speechwriter Lindsay Hayes, also of Alexandria, came in to get her hair pinned up, her makeup done and to pick up a last-minute pair of pantyhose.
"This is fantastic," she says, sipping on a complimentary Pellegrino. "It wasn't even like this for my wedding."
Aaron Leibowitz, of Alexandria, ran in to replace a tuxedo shirt he splattered with red wine on his way to the Independence Ball. As he walked in, he was served a little bottle of champagne, lint-rolled by a beautiful woman, handed a new shirt and undershirt and offered a free shoeshine.
"I feel like I won something," he says to his friend Mike McElwain. "It's a shame you didn't get something spilled on you."
Leibowitz, who works in Republican direct-mail, had already tied his black bow tie, but he clearly possessed a rare talent.
Bow tying is supposed to be like tying a shoelace. But in reality, it's so confounding that Nordstrom customer service representatives were kept busy for nearly three hours helping fed-up, half-tuxedoed men properly twist, knot and dimple that most dressy, and most frustrating, piece of neckwear.
Jack Eggleston talked lawyer Ron Linville, of Columbus, Ohio, through two demonstrations.
Start with the same length. Pull here. Tie a simple knot. Get the dimple right. Tighten. It shouldn't be too perfect.
Then Eggleston stood back and gave a hopeful grin.
His client, Linville, was on his way to celebrate the gift of four more years to get it right. Surely, surely a bow tie could pose no obstacle tonight.
"Can you do it now?" Eggleston asks.
Linville pulled on the edges of his beautifully dimpled bow tie, and smiled a confident smile.