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The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — On Wall Street and points west, much of 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. The chinos, polo shirts and even sneakers that had been businesswear for millions of workers are being replaced by more traditional garb.

“You can’t be casual,” said Camille Lavington, a New York-based 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.”

On Wall Street, where suits never went out of fashion, the bright colors that typified casual have been replaced by a more conservative look.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.-based 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, (Merrill’s workers) are dressing up now.”

Despite the economic downturn, not all companies are rolling back their dress policies.

“The numbers that offer casual dress is very high,” said Kristin Bowl, manager of media affairs at the Society for Human Resource Management in Washington. “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, Wolfe said.

“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.”

Any benefits for shoppers?

“There are going to be some bargains in casual wear to be had,” Wolfe said.

Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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