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SCREEN STYLE / FASHION

Capitol Assets

November 16, 1995|BETTY GOODWIN

The Movie: "The American President."

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The Setup: President Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas), a good-looking widower, takes up with a beautiful lobbyist, Sydney Ellen Wade (Annette Bening).

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The Costume Designer: Gloria Gresham, whose credits include "Urban Cowboy," "Avalon," "The Natural," "The War of the Roses," "Body Double," "A Few Good Men," "When Harry Met Sally" and "Disclosure."

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Her Look: If the chief executive needed one more reason to fall for Wade, it might be that she dresses a breed apart from other female pols. White House Press Secretary Robin McCall (Anna Deavere Smith) conveys the idea--achingly conservative royal blue or patriotic red suits, standard-issue button earrings and a strand of pearls. Ugh. Wade, on the other hand, strides around in trousers, lean skirt suits worn with black hose, good T-shirts instead of blouses, muted tones, the occasional vest, tiny stud earrings and nary a pearl.

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His Look: Shepherd never veers from the power-dressing fundamentals. They include--listen closely--single-breasted suits ("You'd be hard-pressed to find even a member of the Cabinet in a double-breasted suit," Gresham reports) in dark blue or gray (but never brown), solid white or pale blue cotton shirts with French or barrel cuffs, and subdued neckties (navy, burgundy, silver) with small, repeating patterns. That basic dress code applies throughout the food chain, including Chief of Staff A.J. MacInerney (Martin Sheen) and domestic policy adviser Lewis Rothschild (Michael J. Fox). Only presidential foe Sen. Bob Rumson (Richard Dreyfuss) sports slick striped shirts and pin-striped suits.

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Triumph: Dressed for her first formal White House dinner, Wade is a vision in a midnight blue strapless ball gown. Jackie Kennedy revisited? Absolutely. "I looked at everything she wore," the designer says. "She's the only First Lady ever to wear a strapless gown in the White House. Think about it. Did you ever see Barbara Bush or Hillary Clinton or Nancy Reagan in a strapless gown? Maybe Nancy wore a one-shoulder."

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Quoted: "There's a very serious dress code in Washington, even for women, who wear those bright suits and big button earrings. I saw one picture with a woman off in a corner in an Armani-esque suit. It turned out she was a Hollywood producer. We always knew Annette had to look like a character outside the Beltway," Gresham says.

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Trivia: When it's clear that Wade has it made romantically, the leap is telegraphed stylistically with a single strand of pearls.

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Research: Administration photos and C-SPAN tapes of state dinners from the Reagan era on, plus a private White House tour.

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Sources: Wade's ball gown (navy chiffon over royal blue metallic) was designed by Gresham; her work clothes represent "the best of everything. . . . There's no one designer." Shepherd's suits were custom-made at Western Costume and his shirts at Anto in Beverly Hills.

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