"Success dressing" does not mean just a three-piece suit for the board room. For women in construction or the police, for example, "success" also can mean saving your life.

The paucity of safe clothes on the construction site is considered so serious that Pete Brown, contract compliance officer in Metro's office of civil rights, recently called a meeting of Equal Employment Opportunity officers and presented an unusal style show of protective clothing and equipment.

"We wanted to make sure," said Brown, "that contractors know that safety apparel designed specifically for women in the construction trades is now available. And that even the petite woman can get appropriate safety apparel."

Officials of contracting firms were shown smaller-sized clothes appropriate not only for Metro work, but for hazardous work in chemical plants, tunnels, highway construction and excavation in both public and private sectors.

"For many years people have considered construction workers to be Paul Bunyan types, real giants," said Cody Pfanstiehl of Metro. "But an increasing number of women are being encouraged to seek out those jobs."

Even technical items like respirators and safety glasses, said EEO officer Nancy McNamara, may be too large for women and those men, often of different ethnic groups, who are smaller than the average American male.

It's not just in the construction trades where manufacturers have been slow to provide appropriate clothing and equipment for women in jobs once held solely by men.

"Most of the security equipment designed for police officers is designed for men, not for women who are even 5-feet-7 inches tall," said Charles Goings of the Alexandria sheriff's office. "The holster, for example, is scaled for men and actually jabs women in the armpits. You can't get to the service revolver that way. And they are not very useful if you can't get to them."

Another problem: Bullet-proof vests are not made to conform to a woman's figure and may show under the uniform. tIn spite of the push to hire more women in construction, women may be sent away from job sites because they are unsuitably outfitted, said Daniel Jackson, safety engineer for Fruin-Colnon Corp., a heavy-construction company.

"If a woman came with a standard respirator that did not fit properly, I would have to reassign her job position and might not have a job for her at all. I might have to send her back unemployed."

Small-size safety items are so new that Jean Reaves, a vice president for industry relations at R. M. Thornton mechanical contractors, only discovered safety belts in small sizes when she modeled them at the Metro meeting.

"In using a man's-size belt that is too big for me, there is some chance that I would actually fall out of it," she said, "and a great chance I would hurt myself even if it caught me."

Among other safety items being rescaled to fit women and small men are safety glasses (adjustable across the nose bridge and temple), gloves, hats, and shoes, which were often stuffed with socks.

On the subject of fashion on the construction site, safety engineer Jackson raised this question: "Women can wear high fashion jeans, but can you put all the stuff you need on a job site in those pockets?"

EEO officer McNamara said she is concerned about such things as makeup keeping the respirator from sealing properly, about earrings or rings that might get caught in equipment, about long fingernails being ensnared in pipe threaders, causing the very painful loss of the nail, or worse still, the finger.

Other checkpoints for safety:

Belts strong enough to carry a tool pouch (rather than colorful, stylish varieties).

Socks that absorb perspiration under safety shoes (rather than thin, non-absorbent ones).

Boots to go over safety shoes.

Said Edward A. Simons of Safeware, which provided items for the Metro show and is the leader in small-size safety clothes: "It may seem minor, but some women are vain enough not to want the hassle of having to adapt and adjust to things that are not properly sized for them. And why should they have to?"