U.S. Postmaster General William F. Bolger waived a strict departmental code yesterday to permit postal carriers to wear armbands in a demonstration of public support of American hostages in Iran.

In response to a "dignified gesture" of patriotism by Herndon mailman Bob Georgetti, who wore a white armband fashioned from an old T-shirt to work Friday -- and was sent home -- Bolger's statement said "an exception to the federal dress code against armbands, in this case, will be made during this declared time of national emergency."

The postmaster who ordered Georgetti to remove his armband or leave his job said yesterday he would begin wearing one himself.

Georgetti returned to work yesterday, minus the armband. He said he spent the day exhorting his colleagues to start wearing armbands and wondering when he would be fired. He seemed mildly pleased with Bolger's statement.

"Excellent!" said Georgetti, 28, of 773 Station St. in Herndon. "We're all going to stand together on this."

Walter Duka, a Bolger aide, said the armband was seen as a violation of the dress code that prohibits unauthorized additions to the pale blue postal uniform.

But Duka received a phone call from Bolger yesterday saying he "didn't want the postal service to look as if we weren't supporting the government in a national emergency."

"This exception is not for any other protest, just the Iranian situation," Duka said. "And the exception will be in effect for the duration of the crisis. We're not telling people that they have to wear armbands, but anyone who wants to can do it."

Duka said Bolger "could appreciate Georgetti's strong feelings" after he read a Washington Post story on Friday's incident.

Georgetti said that he was inspired by a radio disc jockey's suggestion Thursday that armbands would be "a visible sign of encouragement to the hostages." The idea apparently was proposed by an anonymous woman caller to radio station WSOC in Charlotte, N.C., and supported by Sen. Robert Morgan (D-N.C.)

But Georgetti was told by Herndon postmaster Richard Klare Friday to "take off the armband or leave." He left.

Privately, however, Herndon postal officials admitted that their decision "bothered us a hell of a lot. We agreed with it, but then people would start wearing bands for abortion rights or something."

Yesterday, postmaster Klare said, "If we can wear them to support the hostages, I'll start wearing one myself."

Georgetti, meanwhile, said he was greeted by "enthusiastic support" on his regular route through Herndon yesterday.

"People read the story and kept asking if they could help in some way. It was great seeing how this has affected people," said Georgetti, whose only previous protest was against the American war in Vietnam.

Fellow postal workers were equally supportive, at least privately.

"It's a gut feeling," said one mailman. "You feel so damned helpless. You want to do something."