Next time a woman tells you she's not a "girly girl," be suspicious. Because as a recent well-orchestrated party held inside the comfy confines of the Crown Ballroom attests, real girly "girliness" doesn't strut by you in a short dress sporting blue eyeshadow and a new boob job. No, girl (or maybe I should say G-I-R-L), that elixir of nutmeg, Nutrasweet and everything nice hides deep beneath the dermis. Anyone with two X-chromosomes--from suburban bachelorettes to mature businesswomen--likes to let it all hang out sometimes. And, right now, women-only Crave Parties are where ladies are hanging it.

Started in Seattle by entrepreneurial Melody Biringer, Crave is the latest endeavor for this daughter of a Washington strawberry farmer. And watching Melody watch dozens of ladies spend their dreary Sunday in this sweet-smelling enclave, you have to be impressed by her acumen. Crave parties bring together professional women and like-minded local retailers, salons and women-owned businesses for a great big shop-and-pamper "slumber" party. Participants enjoy spa services (as serious as waxing or as artistic as mehndi henna painting), sip champagne (gratis with your $35 admission) or watch fashion shows, all the while visiting booth-sized boutiques where merchants make their wares available for purchase.

And, while guests don't spend the night, the dress code strictly encouraged here is PJs and slippers. No joke.

For the first Crave in Portland (which attracted close to 100 bodies), Melody brought together fashionable boutiques like Tumbleweed, Twist and Bad Doll. It also offered up Ella (a gifty store which focuses on the work of women artists), Nirvana Day Spa, La Muse Salon, and a handful of other Portland entrepreneurs and artisans who see Crave parties as a great way not only to network but also to enhance their businesses.

A mehndi artist from Seattle, Krysteen Lomonaco, embodies Crave's networking power: "I met Melody at a fair where she was doing a strawberry-shortcake booth and I was doing henna tattoos." When Biringer (who also used to be in the home-spa biz) started Crave, Lomonaco stayed in the loop. Five or six parties later, Lomonaco still is at it--offering her art for $25 a pop. While fashion and beauty businesses tend to dominate these swell shindigs, worthwhile causes, such as Women For Children (a nonprofit) and Wired Women Web (a Web-based women's networking service) helped round out the guilty pleasures.

And if true "girliness" is the molten ore that courses silently through the bedrock of American womanhood, it looks like Biringer has struck a powerfully rich vein.

"Women need this," says Melody. "They say they're going to get together, but other commitments always keep it from happening. Crave is an excuse to spend quality time with girlfriends."

Thirty-five bucks might seem a stiff surcharge for QT with your sisters, but consider Crave's other benefits: a goody bag stuffed with sweets, samples and coupons for discounts at participating businesses, a lingerie and pajama show, door prizes and hunky boys manning the coat check and elevators. And did I mention candelabras, comfy couches and a whole day where you don't have to get dressed?

And about those pajamas: They aren't just a hokey add-on.

"Women can be competitive in their dress and appearance, so by taking away that aspect, everyone can feel free to relax and be themselves," says Biringer.

For Portland's Crave, Melody thought of everything--well, except for when she'll come back. While her routinely sold-out parties up north come semi-monthly, P-town may have to wait until fall for the next one. Watch the Crave Party website for your next chance to girl out.

You know you want to.

Red Light Spring Fashion Show

Fashion. Fun. And fish sticks. Who could ask for anything more? Raffles, grab bags and a fish- stick eating contest are all part of the Red Light's version of a fashion show.

3590 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 963-8888. 6 pm Thursday, Feb. 27.