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Office Culture: Banana Republicans

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"Putting on a suit was like putting on a uniform; it got you in the right mind frame," sighs a trader at Credit Suisse First Boston. "I mean, they wouldn't let the guys in the NBA run around in their own shorts." As it happens, some of the companies issuing casual-Friday-every-day mandates have no intention of letting employees run around in their own shorts, either. They've gratefully seized a proposal by Banana Republic to standardize the khakis and pullovers of the new dress code -- to create, in effect, the suit of the new millennium -- and invited the canny clothier into their offices to do it. "A lot of companies are doing things to address the confusion in the workplace," says a Banana Republic spokeswoman. "But we've taken it to the next level."

To kick off its in-house "stores," Banana Republic treated CSFB troops to a twelve-piece Cuban orchestra and sushi bar, Scient staff was served green-apple martinis "deskside" at 6 p.m., and HBO was treated to a coffee-and-cake spread ("HBO is an 'earlier' crowd," a Banana Republic rep tactfully explained). The highlight of each party was a runway fashion show featuring employees who strutted the catwalk while their co-workers jeered them on.

Soon, conference rooms were transformed into sample sales: tables piled with V-necks, racks full of purple shirts. The CSFB "store" filled with traders fondling sweaters while a techno beat thumped in the background. Some consulted with the on-site tailor; others scheduled fittings with perky, headset-wearing Banana Republic employees. Sure, stock was low ("There were thirteen other people my size trying on the same shirt," one guy grumbled), and one style of pants were available only in "short," so everyone emerged from the fitting rooms in high-waters. But at least it was all 20 percent off. Which wasn't enough for one enterprising CSFB trader: "Maybe I'll just take them off the mannequins at night," he schemed, "when no one's around."


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