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Moms, kids browse in a fashion paradise

One in an occasional series

Connie Raissi's Angel Baby and Me shop is about children, before and after they are born.

But it also is for children _ Mrs. Raissi's 9-month-old daughter, Victoria, has been there since she was 3 months old, and has the run of the shop, which is child-proof.

Mrs. Raissi opened the shop at 3993 Tyrone Blvd. N when she was seven months pregnant and already had Alexandria, now 3. She had spent plenty of time looking for maternity wear and children's clothes, and felt there was a dearth of both locally.

She carries a full line of maternity clothes and nursing wear, including lingerie, and baby wear from preemie sizes to 4, with sizes up to 6 coming in with matching mother-daughter and mother-son sets. The "mother" dresses in the matching sets will be regular women's fashions, not maternity.

Appreciating that moms-to-be don't want to put big money into clothes they may wear only once, she has one small rack of rental maternity cocktail wear. These dresses rent for $39 to $59.95 for a weekend.

"And I'm getting more of these in for spring, to wear to weddings and things," she says.

Mrs. Raissi alternates days at the shop with Mary Borries, with hours set at 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

It is apparent that designers of maternity wear have tried to think of everything to cover the bodies and pick up the spirits of the not-so-shapely. There are short tops to wear under jumpers, so two layers of clothing do not add to bulk and heat. There are one-piece bloomer-style overalls. There are palazzo pants, and various one- and two-piece casual and dressy dresses. There are long ruffled tops to be worn with leggings for "the poet look."

Special maternity support garments and belts give support for extra weight. A "comfort wedge" pillow supports over-stressed backs.

Apparel for the nursing mother has an extra flap in the front so women do not have to unbutton their blouses.

And for those mothers-to-be who keep relatively in shape until the last minute, there are Danskin leotards and tights in maternity wear.

"A lot of lines come in with tags that say, "Wear me after,' " Mrs. Raissi says, "and instructions as to where and how to alter them."

Gale Valente shops here constantly. "I bought almost all my maternity clothes from her, and now I'm wearing nursing wear," Mrs. Valente says, "and I would say she's got the prettiest clothes in town for little girls."

Says Teresa Lustig: "I love the store. Connie is so pleasant. I have a little girl 10 months old, and Connie has a play area. This is such a nice alternative to the department store.

"And she's constantly changing things, bringing in beautiful outfits for each season."

Sunflowers, vegetables and fruit are big in patterns for children's wear this year, Mrs. Raissi says, and she has lots of bright patterned toddler clothes adorning her walls. These include "bubble" suits, overalls, bloomers and jumpers, with cloth sun hats and Easter straw hats. She has a variety of clothes for boys as well, including tiny formal wear for ring bearers.

Presenting the other extreme to the splashy prints are dainty christening gowns and hand-embroidered diaper shirts, tiny "take me home" outfits for the newborn, lacy pants and bonnets.

Children's shoes include everything from miniature cowboy boots and deck shoes to cloth baby shoes and gold dancing shoes with sequined bows. Other items for children include jewelry, headbands, hair clips and a few toys. She also carries a little white Baby's First Bible.

To make this a one-stop store for parents and children, Mrs. Raissi can order a complete line of invitations and announcements, children's bedding and some items of children's equipment.

"This is fun for me," she says. "Nearly everybody I deal with has children, so we all have that in common."