PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma's state of the nation speech got off to a wet start in Cape Town yesterday - but the rain did not stop stylish MPs from stepping out on a soaked red carpet.

Only Maggie Sotyu, the head of parliament's water portfolio committee, had the foresight to wear a traditional blanket over her brown-and-gold-spotted semi-traditional dress to keep out the cold.

The recession was virtually nowhere in evidence as designer dresses filled the grounds outside the National Assembly.

An exception was former Eastern Cape premier Nosimo Balindlela, now a Cope MP, in bare feet and traditional clothing.

Others chose bright and upbeat floor-length dresses, chosen, they said, to reflect the mood surrounding the new Zuma presidency.

New ANC MP Nomfundo Mkhulisi won the fashion stakes in a stunning flowing peacock-like dress in different shades of green, designed by Wantashe Boutique in Durban.

The crowds were also impressed by the DA's new spokesperson on home affairs, Juanita Terreblanche, calling on her to pose over and over again on the red carpet in her David Tlali-matching red dress creation.

Nkele Motsoaledi, the wife of Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, wowed the crowds in her sapphire floor-length ruffled gown with a cerise fur coat.

ID leader Patricia de Lille shocked bystanders in her shiny sapphire-blue satin coat with matching hat and shiny red tie. Many asked why she had abandoned her usual dignified apparel to dress up as one of Cape Town's minstrels.

The generation gap was obvious.

The older generation, such as DA leader Helen Zille and ANC MP Florence Nyanda, chose tailored suits in different shades of gold and bronze - or dark suits with black hats like those normally worn to church on Sundays.

But parliament's new 20-something MPs, such as Cope's Anele Mda and the ANC's Mduduzi Manana, went over the top with oversized sunglasses and outlandish clothing more often seen at a nightclub.

The men were nothing to write home about.

Most wore pinstriped or toned-down dark suits with striped ties and dark grey coats.

One exception was Cope's Bishop Tholo, in a stylish black jacket with white floral print.