A strange thing has happened to me. I have become a follower in a movement in which I used to be an agitator and propagandist.

As a young man, I wrote polemics against the rigid dress code that requires males to wear jackets and to tie silken ropes around their necks, even on hot summer days. For years, I argued for sensible summer attire.

But as time passed. I realised that I was banging my head against a stone wall. The wall was unaffected, but I was beginning to answer phones that weren't ringing.

It became obvious to me that men were too insecure to change. They didn't have the courage to be the first to challenge convention.

In private, a man might agree that it is foolish to wear uncomfortable clothing on hot days, especially in the company of women who dress sensibly. But that was the full extent of male courage: private talk. In public, men conformed.

All of this took place, mind you, back in the days when few places were air conditioned. One went to a movie to cool off because homes, offices, restaurants and other public places were not yet blessed with artificial cooling.

When air conditioning became commonplace, I thought it was time to give up the fight. If men wouldn't shed their jackets and the ropes around their necks in a 90-degree office, why would they do it in a 75-degree office?

Yet today I am waiting for the recruiting station to open so that I can sign up for another hitch in the war against humbug. WMAL Radio says that tomorrow it will launch a new campaign for sensible summer dress codes for males, and I can't wait to enlist in the battle.

WMAL's campaign has the support of the Federal Energy Administration, which wants to reduce the amount of energy this country uses on artificial cooling. Even the Board of Trade, which used to be extremely conservative and is still far from radical, has endorsed the idea.

All that's involved is the suggestion that men be permitted - yea, urged - to wear neat, open-necked shirts instead of the neckties and jackets that convention still dictates, even in offices that in winter are heated to intolerable levels.

Would the foundations of the republic really be shattered if such a dress code were adopted? Are stodgy males really capable of change?

Let me remind you that there was a time when the average man wouldn't dare to be seen in public without a hat. Today one seldom sees a hat on a man's head, summer or winter, except when rain or snow are imminent. Spats, too, have joined the dodo bird in extinction.

Why, then, is the $15 silken rope around our necks still deemed essential? Would genteel ladies shriek in horror at the sight of an unclad male throat? Would Anita Bryant object? What, for heaven's sake, is so sacred about neckties and jackets?

WMAL says the government has estimated that this nation could save 36 billion kilowatt hours of electricity if men dresses sensibly in the summer and air conditioning thermostats were set at 78 degrees.

In terms of fuel, a 36 billion kilowatt saving translates into 4 billion gallons of oil that we wouldn't have to import each year. If the need for air conditioning exists on 80 days a year, we'd be saving 50 million gallons of oil during each of those days.

I can understand male reluctance to respond to a common sense appeal to be comfortable. A man's fear of being thought "strange" by his peer group is much stronger than his common sense. But I would find it hard to understand if men continue to resist change even when their country says it faces an energy crisis that makes change necessary.

I can't ask the people at WMAL to roll up their sleeves and make a success of their campaign because I must assume that they will all be wearing short-sleeved shirts and sleeveless dresses. But I hope you give-em-hell anyhow. WMALers, I'm with you 100 degrees - I mean 100 per cent.