Dressed to Be the Belle of Bush Inaugural Ball

Classic. Traditional. Elegant. Those are the words developer Kathryn Thompson uses to describe the gown she will wear to President-elect George Bush’s inaugural ball Jan. 20.

Thompson is the philanthropist who makes grand entrances at local galas in frocks that are avant-garde and fun--frills out of fairy tales. (You remember. It was Thompson who bedazzled guests at the Tiffany Ball in a scarab-blue bolero jacket displaying zillions of beads in the shape of the blinding Tiffany diamond.)

But there will be no beads for the Bushes. And no matching glitter tie for Thompson’s beau, developer Gus Owen.

For Washington, she will don a “classic ball-gown look,” said Thompson, a member of Team 100, a group of donors who gave $100,000 to the Bush campaign.


That means “black chiffon and velvet,” she said. “A skirt topped with a silk bustier and a bolero jacket with puff sleeves.”

And for Owen, president of the Lincoln Club? “No glitter,” he said, laughing. “ Not in Washington .”

Orange County goes East Coast.

But will they bring it here? Will the trend-setting Thompson and Owen start to tone down their local gala wear to fit the new East Coast sensibility in the White House? Will women here begin to sport Barbara Bush’s traditional look? Will men begin to buy Brooks Brothers only? Thompson thinks not. “I don’t think you’ll see much difference at charity events here,” said the woman who brought the glitz-and-glamour-filled “March of Dimes Gourmet Gala” to Orange County. “I, for one, have my own style.”

But hasn’t the way the Reagans dress influenced her and other gala-goers?

“Perhaps more than we realize. But, of course, the Reagans have been in the White House 8 years. There has been time to influence. They probably did encourage us to be more elegant and formal.”

Thompson concedes that, if she were to toss a party locally to honor the Bushes, her style would change. “I would not wear a beaded, strapless gown,” she said. “I see the Bushes as a classic ball-gown kind of couple. A full, velvet-type dress would be more appropriate.”

Owen believes that the Bushes’ tenure in the White House will influence the way Orange County is seen throughout the nation. “People here who were part of the Bush campaign will be invited to the White House. And not necessarily because of the amount of money they contributed. More because they participated . Bush likes a team-spirit kind of gathering. The Reagans liked a more social atmosphere. Some would call it an elitist atmosphere. Bush will have more of the common people in.”

As for fashion, Owen sees Orange County going “more casual. I’m not putting down the Reagans for the way they dress. . . . Nancy and her gowns. They portrayed an image of pomp and circumstance that was almost like the Kennedys. Quite social. But I think you’re going to see the Bushes influence people here to dress more casually, be more down to earth and friendly.”

Thompson and Owen got a good glimpse of the Bushes’ penchant for a relaxed atmosphere when they attended a dinner party at developer Donald Koll’s Newport Beach home a few months ago. “They were both very warm,” Thompson said of the Bushes. “He is very much the gentleman, someone very nice to be around.”

Owen said: “Bush’s social style is low-key and sincere. If I had a party for them, we would all dress Western and have a steak barbecue with beans and corn on the cob. That and lots of conversation. The Bushes love to mingle with the folks.”

Etcetera: Along with Linda and Mike Curb, Thompson and Owen will fly to the inauguration with Willa Dean and William Lyon (also a member of Team 100) aboard Lyon’s private jet. . . . Judie and George Argyros, Team 100 members, plan to attend the inaugural ball, and Judie, like Thompson, plans to don “something subdued”. . . . Irvine Co. Chairman Donald Bren, another Team 100 player, will attend inaugural festivities with Larry Thomas, his vice president of corporate communications; Jack Flanigan, his vice president of corporate relations, and Joanne and Gary Hunt, corporate vice president. Gary Hunt looks forward to being at this ball “strictly as a guest,” he said.

In 1980, Hunt was vice chairman of the Inaugural Committee for President Reagan, which meant he was group chairman for the “nine inaugural balls that were happening at the same time. Basically, we put on parties for 65,000 people. At the Kennedy Center we had four ballrooms going simultaneously--four stages with four different acts . . . high-quality performers like Frank Sinatra and Glenn Campbell who needed to be coordinated.” Going to this one sans responsibility “feels wonderful,” Hunt said. “I hope it doesn’t snow.”