The uniformed look of George Orwell's "1984" is not far away, and if the CAI has its way we may all be in uniform even before then.

CAI, not to be confused with a government agency, stands for "Career Apparel Institute," a group of more than 100 manufacturers, distributors and suppliers of career apparel. It claims that one million U.S. white collar workers wear some sort of uniform and predicts that by 1985 the figure will climb to 1.5 million. The National Associaiton of Uniform Manufactuers estimate that between 10 million and 11 million working Americans are in uniform.

Uniforms are all around us. A Washingtonian can run into several different police forces each day: city, Capitol, park, Metro and executive. Then there are letter carriers, firemen, doormen, security guards, nurses, stewardesses and fast-food restaurant employes.

"People enjoy wearing uniforms because they are then disassociated from others. They are looked up to," says one psychiatrist. "They become the symbol of authority, someone to be respected. Their own self-esteem is increased."

A guy with the DC. Department of Sanitation, moving trash around, thought about that statement and finally concluded that he wore his uniform because it saved his own clothes.

A respected sociologist observed, "Uniforms are a way to communicate."

Informed of that, a counter girl at Burger King, who wanted to remain anonymous, said, "I guess you can call it communicating. We say, 'May I help you?' and they say, 'Give me a Whopper.'"

People count on people in uniform. As a Metro official said, in commenting on the recent driverless Red Line train incident, "We could run the entire system without a human being at the controls, but people feel more comfortable knowing that someone is there."

A National Associaion of Uniform Manufactors (NAUM) report said, "One of society's oldest symbols, the uniform represents tradition, authority and a specific type of work. Almost every American responds to them. It can instill fear or be considered beautiful. People react to it -- sometimes violently." As in, presumably, "Kill the ump."

To stimulate the wearing of uniforms, NAUM holds "Image of the Year Awards."

This year seven organizations won: Burger King, United Airlines, American Express Travel Service, Continental Airlines, Midwest Federal Savings and Loan Association of Minneapolis, Spartan Security Service at the Eastern Airlines terminal at Kennedy Airport in New York and the Sheraton-Boston Hotel. Burger King, for example, has 96,000 employes in uniform and chocolate is the big color. Los Angeles-based Continental Airlines features "earth tones."

The first uniforms that many of us confronted were Brownie or Cub-Scout outfits.

Parochial and private schools came along with clothes to set their students apart -- in our case to make us easily identifiable as we got in trouble to and from school.

A white shirt, bright red necktie and black knickers gave the local storekeepers the evidence they needed for the phone call to the Sister Superior.

Another experience I had proved that it can pay to wear a uniform.

Back when I was in the Navy, on a submarine in Panama, a shipmate anguished over having to wear a uniform all the time. He suggested we buy a couple of cheap white, planters' suits along with the big straw hats. Next time ashore we did.

We found a place to change and hid our uniforms, then headed for a favorite saloon of the crew members. Standing at the bar, handling a second beer, we were amused that our shipmates did not recognize us until we exposed the hoax.

But when we returned for our uniforms, they had been stolen.

We couldn't get back without the liberty launch, thereby facing all sorts of punishment when we got on board, so my resourceful friend spotted a ratty-looking rubber raft about one-third submerged, tied up along an old pier.

Paddling furiously with our hands, we made great progress -- until the current pulled us past the base and out toward the wide Pacific.

Luckily, the Coast Guard came upon us -- never did a man in uniform look so good. They heaved us a line and listened to our tale. Unluckily, they turned us in.

The glare on the face of the impeccable uniformed OD aboard our sub struck terror in us as we were ordered below and told to be ready to stand by for charges in the morning.

We did not get the firing squad but the restriction was severe enough to keep us out of dress blues for three months. CAPTION: Illustration, no caption, by Mankoff, Copyright (c) 1978, The New Yorker Magazine Inc.