They're not just for fast-food workers

UNIFORM APPEAL

March 02, 1992|By Pam Belluck | Pam Belluck,Knight-Ridder News Service

Across the country, banks, insurance companies and real estate agencies are asking their employees to take off their clothes. Then, they have them do something really different -- dress alike.

"You can go somewhere and people say 'Oh, you work for Mer

chants Bank,' " said Eileen Cain, assistant vice president at Merchants Bank & Trust Co. in Gulfport, Miss., which outfits all female employees from tellers to bank officers.

Merchants Bank has an elaborate menu of interchangeable uniform parts and a rotation that requires each employee in each branch to wear the same color combination on the same day. On Monday, it might be the navy blue drop waist Gatsby dress. Tuesday, it's the coatdress in the parquet plaid or the violet and gold skirt suit.

And every 90 days, as naturally as compounding quarterly interest rates, the bank changes the uniform rotation. Every two years, new colors and styles are ordered, putting the bank in the forefront of fashion.

"Our customers are always anxious to see our new uniforms," Ms. Cain said. "When we came out with our violet and gold, we were about six months ahead of the stores."

At First National Bank of Chicago, uniforms have become so popular that what started as a teller-only, plain-blue-wrapper idea has blossomed steadily since 1984 to include account executives, personal bankers, security guards, customer service representatives and supervisors -- anyone who is seen by the public.

There are now close to 1,800 employees who dress to the nines in lavender, glen plaid, tan, olive, navy or red wool and cotton blends -- no more tacky polyester. And there are eight "career apparel" employees whose sole job is to order, fit and alter the outfits.

"The point in the beginning was to make the tellers feel like bankers," said Assistant Vice President Savannah Hannah. "But now, even some of the bigger managers say they wish they had career apparel. We have gotten calls from other banks, and the University of Illinois hospital ordered two of our suits for receptionists. Even our customers have been buying the blouses and ties."

Most companies buy the uniforms for their employees at a cost of about $300 to $850 per person. First National Bank of Chicago shelled out $600,000 last year to outfit nearly 1,000 new employees, including those in bank branches that First Chicago took over earlier in the year, Ms. Hannah said.

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