March 17, 1997 12:00 PM

IT’S FUNNY TO SEE PEOPLE WHO USUALLY WEAR rags and ripped jeans wearing tuxedos,” said singer Fiona Apple, herself dressed to trill in a I blue two-píece Prada, at the 39th annual Grammy Awards in New York City on Feb. 26. “But this is a special occasion.” Indeed, with music’s elite gathered at Madison Square Garden, attendees pushed the limits of harmony with their clothes. “I threw this together myself—Hush Puppies, Donna Karan slacks and Versace shirt,” said Tony Rich, winner of best R&B album. Ali, deejay for A Tribe Called Quest, stood out in a navy and lime-green Armani sweater with matching do-rag. “I saw the sweater and wanted a head-wrap,” he said. “My wife said, ‘You’re crazy’ ”

Others were more in tune with convention. Gloria Estefan did justice to a cream-colored Hervé Léger, Jewel sparkled in a filmy Gianfranco Ferre, and 14-year-old LeAnn Rimes accepted her awards for best new artist and best female country performer in a baby-blue Christina Perrin. And while reviews of the CBS broadcast were so-so, talk show host Rolonda Watts noted the Grammys had one advantage over other awards. “You get to put on the longest lashes in your makeup drawer,” she said, “and snap your fingers to good music.”

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