- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 28, 2001

Corporate America is again buttoning the top button and leaving the khakis at home.
The economic slowdown is reversing a trend toward casual dress in offices across the country, including here in Washington.
The chinos, polo shirts and even sneakers that had been businesswear for millions of workers are being replaced by more traditional garb.
"There is a seriousness returning to the marketplace," said Steve Snider, senior partner at law firm Hale and Dorr in the District. "We've maintained our casual policy, but we're seeing more and more people wearing ties and suits again."
The law firm, which has about 75 lawyers between its Reston and Washington offices, has allowed casual dress since late 1999, said Mr. Snider, who wears suits and ties about half the time, particularly when he has a meeting.
"You can't be casual," said Camille Lavington, a New York corporate dress consultant. "It looks like you're headed for the golf course. And maybe deals were being made there when things were better, but now people aren't as casual about leaving the computer in the office. They're not as informal."
Brad Thomason, research director at Financial Resource Group in Birmingham, Ala., has seen the casual trend ebb and flow.
"There are still a lot of firms out there that dress down, but you don't see people taking it to the extreme and showing up in shorts and sandals too much nowadays," he said.
Mr. Thomason, himself no stranger to khakis and open collars, said he wears suits and ties more often. "You have to look confident."
On Wall Street, where suits never went out of fashion, the bright colors that typified casual have been replaced by a more conservative look.
The softened stock market has many workers using clothing to feel secure in their jobs, said Ken Gordon, president of Kreiss & Gordon, a Rockville Centre, N.Y., supplier of upscale clothes. The mood shift has been good for his business.
"Dressing with a business suit has caused our customers not to go back to their closets but to the store to see what's new and different."
At Jordan's Furniture, based in Waltham, Mass., a dress code for salespeople has been in place for a year: dress pants, shirt and tie, with a sport coat optional.
Eliot Tatelman, president and chief executive, says sales staff at the company's four stores weren't impressing customers with their appearance.
"It's a big-dollar value that people are purchasing, so you want to be very professional looking," he said. "The khakis and T-shirts and polo shirts were coming across as too casual, and it was being overused."
At Merrill Lynch, casual wear is out in the branch offices because of the greater client contact, said spokeswoman Selena Morris. "As our clients are dressing up more, [our workers] are dressing up now."
Despite the economic downturn, not all companies are rolling back their dress policies.
"The number that offer casual dress is very high," said Kristin Bowl, manager of media affairs at the Society for Human Resource Management in Alexandria. "It's one of the most popular benefits."
The renewed interest in business attire is bad news for the retailers that invested heavily in the casual-dress concept, said David Wolfe, creative director of Doneger Group, a buying office in New York.
"They're in a vulnerable position," he said. "Some of the stores have completely closed or diminished the floor space they give to traditional business attire."
Are there any benefits for shoppers?
"There are going to be some bargains in casual wear to be had," Mr. Wolfe said.
However, not all companies are returning to the business suit.
Employees at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, in the District, are still coming to work in business casual something they have been doing since spring 2000.
"I see no change in our law firm," said managing partner Michael Kelley. "I believe we'll never go back to the coat and tie five days a week."
Donna De Marco contributed to this report.

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