Down-Home Duds, Elegant Couture

An Oscar de la Renta (search) gown and Laredo boots? Not a fashion faux pas for guests at the Black Tie and Boots Ball.

The Texas State Society's (search) gala Wednesday is the first and arguably the most unconventional bash of inaugural week — at least in fashion terms.

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It's the only party in town where guests are not just encouraged but expected to pair elegant chiffon couture from the racks of top designers like Lela Rose and Badgley Mischka with down-home duds like Stetson hats and Tony Lamas kicks.

Whether it's a giant silver belt buckle hanging from tuxedo trousers or a broken-in pair of cowboy boots peeking from under a sequined gown, anything seems to go — as long as it has a Lone Star State flair.

This year, first lady Laura Bush (search) chose a raspberry silk taffeta Carolina Herrera ensemble with a Western touch — a full skirt and bodice resembling a button-down shirt — for her home state's ball.

Four years ago at his first inauguration, the tuxedo-clad President Bush sported custom-made black leather and suede footwear embroidered with his initials and the presidential seal.


Sue Brannon, chairwoman of the Midland County Republican Party in Texas, went all out for her second Texas State Society ball. She wore a rhinestone tiara, a matching brooch that spelled "Bush" and necklace with the Texas flag on it. Her accessories — including the sequined American flag clutch — matched her clingy and sparkly red floor-length frock.

"I bought it special for the Black Tie and Boots Ball and I thought rather than wear a hat, I'd rather wear my boots. These are red snake. My husband bought them for me 15 years ago. These are my dancing boots. They're Tony Lamas. I love them so much, I brought them with me when I went shopping for this dress!" said Brannon, 67, as she hiked up her gown to reveal the newly shined boots.

Her son and escort for the evening, Reid Brannon, sported a red, white and blue bow tie with his black tuxedo jacket, crisp blue jeans and new Nocona boots. "I actually got a new pair for this. My other ones were all scuffed up," he said.


Mary and Tom Seay, a Shaker Heights, Ohio, couple originally from Houston, went for a look that was a little more country-western than Fifth Avenue.

Mrs. Seay, 48, wore a long black suede outfit complete with fringe and turquoise beads from a Texas boutique. Her boots peeked from beneath her skirt and a black felt-like hat with silver links perched on her head. "I had the boots and I had the concho belt and the turquoise necklace, but I needed a dress," she explained. Then, with a grin, she added, "It was on sale."

"Mine's just a normal tux but it's got a little bit of a western vest," her husband said, opening his jacket to reveal a black vest with a swirled pattern. "Then, we've got some King Ranch cufflinks, and this is from an artist in Aspen. It's a bolo tie." The silver piece on the tie was in the shape of a ram's head. On his lapel, the 48-year-old Seay wore a red and blue blinking cowboy boot pin.


Mark and Lorian Sessions of San Antonio opted for boots instead of cowboy hats.

"I had 15-year-old brown ones and I needed black ones anyway," Mrs. Sessions, 35, said of her new Cavender footwear, which bore a white star and embroidery.

Her husband, 47, hiked up the cuff of his custom-made tuxedo as he piped in, "I got mine when the president's father was inaugurated in 1989."

"He's had them refurbished since then. His are lizard skin, mine are kangaroo," added Mrs. Sessions, who paired her new duds with an aqua-colored fur wrap. "I bought it at Saks. It's a mink." She wore it over a simple black floor-length gown. "It was $35. I bought it 10 years ago two sizes too big.

"I figured I'd either let it out or take it in when I finally wore it. I had to take it in, thank God! I refused to put a thousand-dollar dress with a pair of boots!"


Sarah Furlow, 19, needed just the right footwear — in color and style — to go with the brown low-cut beed-and-lace slip dress from Cache that she already had hanging in her closet.

The Texas Tech University fashion design major found just the pair — on the feet of a friend while they were at the movies. "I asked her if I could borrow them and she took them off in the movie theater and walked out barefoot," Furlow recalled, still laughing at the episode. "They match perfectly, don't they?"