At the base of the Treasury Department steps stands the dignified statue of former secretary of the treasury Albert Gallatin, perennially decked out in a tasteful three-piece suit -- just the kind of sartorial splendor that those in the secretary's office have been urged to emulate.

Last week, the Office of the Secretary of the Treasury released guidelines for proper attire among its 1,600 employes, suggesting that men wear coats and ties and women wear "appropriate attire." And that has left some workers a little hot under the collar.

"Stupid," said one yesterday.

"Mickey Mouse," added another.

"It's a very fascist . . . thing to do, don't you think?" said a third.

Many of those critical of the new policy would not give their names, but a few spoke up for the record. "I think a person's dress should be one of individuality," said Joe Ware, a file clerk in the executive secretary's office, who was wearing a short-sleeved shirt with no tie. "I think everybody's an adult and everybody should be treated as an adult."

Ware will continue to wear his chosen apparel, which he described as "neat, clean and presentable," until someone tells him otherwise.

Deputy Assistant Secretary for Administration Paul Cooksey, author of the two-page directive, said he doesn't agree. "We're basically just trying to have the Office of the Secretary as a whole put forth the best possible appearance."

"It's guidelines," he added. "This is not a regulation or a law. No hallway monitors or anything."

Cooksey issued the directive without consulting Treasury Secretary James A. Baker III. "This was not Mr. Baker's idea. He did not review the directive before it went out. It is not something that the secretary needs to deal with."

The directive states that workers "who occupy positions which bring them into contact with the public should dress appropriately for a business setting . . .

"Male employees are not required to wear a coat or jacket at all times but should have one accessible for occasions when the employee may encounter the public or visitors from outside the Office of the Secretary. For female employees, appropriate attire includes dresses, skirts with blouse or sweater, suits and pantsuits."

The memo continues, "T-shirts, blue jeans, or shorts are not appropriate" for those who face the public.

How long did it take Cooksey and his staff to formulate the policy?

"We had drafts going back and forth for several weeks," he said.

What prompted him to write the report?

"There's no incident that triggered it," he said. "We found that there was no guidance that existed for dress."

Although many in the Office of the Secretary said they had been dressing well without guidance, others supported the report.

"I'm in favor of it because I think your dress helps you in your morale," said George Saunders. "I think you can be more proud of your organization."

Cooksey agreed. "People are in a coat and tie. They're crisp. They're neat . . . It adds to the whole setting."

Mary Key said she wasn't surprised by the memo: "Everyone knows we dress sort of bummish." As long as she's not forced to wear her nicest clothes, she said she doesn't object. "I don't wear my best clothes here. You come in and you get them ripped on an 80-year-old desk. What's the purpose?"

Workers cited an influx of tight jeans, T-shirts and sleeveless shirts and women sans stockings. "It sort of had to be done."

"I have seen some in miniskirts and halter tops, and I don't think that's appropriate," said Bobbie Walters.

"Tell him about the no bras, the ones that don't wear bras," coworker Elizabeth Ward urged her.

Walters nodded seriously and confirmed the statement. "I have seen a few girls with no bras."

The whole issue may be moot, anyway. Said Cooksey, "They're pretty much going to continue the way they're dressing."