JOHN BROWN, SECRETARY to the District of Columbia's City Council, has issued a memo to his staff informing them that it is, in the immortal words of Ted Williams, a whole new ball game. No more gabbing on the phone during working hours, no more showing up for work whenever the mood strikes and no more tight-fitting leotards. Moreover, the braless look is out at City Hall.

A quick read of the memo has got to leave residents of the District of Columbia wondering just what on earth has been going on at the District Building, but since everything is running so smoothly in the city, despite that wee little budget problem we've been hearing about, obviously such an interpretation of the memo would be jumping to conclusions. So we can only conclude that Mr. Brown, sensing the mood of the country, has decided that the City Council is going to trend-set once again and, ahem, shape up. Presumably Mr. Brown has all of his other tasks well in hand and can now devote himself fully to the problem that is gripping the imagination of le tout Washington: The District Building Dress Code. The first rule of proper attire is to wear a bra.

Now, in the interests of objectivity, I think it is important to note here (with thanks to Phyliss Schlafly) that I am not nor have I ever been your typical, allegedly bra-burning, women's libber. I not only do not burn bras, I wear them. The only times I can recall not wearing one have been when I have been 1) in a bathing suit, 2) in my pajamas, 3) in surgery, and 4) in the privacy of my own home. Alone.

You see, I was of the generation that was dying to wear bras. We got our first bras when we were 10, whether we needed them or not. And we continued to wear them whether we needed them or not. Some habits are hard to break. And I will readily confess that when the braless look came in, I spent a lot of time looking at the same ceiling that half my male colleagues were staring at. I mean, jeez, those women left nothing to the imagination. They might as well be wearing nothing.

Well, they continued to wear nothing, and by and by most of us got over our envy and our modesty and, at least in offices I see, a woman will have to do a lot more than show up without a bra to create a stir.

The word at the District Building is that Mr. Brown's edict was greeted with amusement and some annoyance. Apparently no one was particularly shocked, which is a good thing. The writing was on the wall. First, The Pill -- the ultimate sex symbol of the 1960s -- turns out to be dangerous. Then tampons turn out to be hazardous and we are being urged to return to sanitary pads. At about the same time, shoulder pads and stockings with seams are coming back, which means that you have to bend around like a pretzel every half hour to make sure your seams are straight. With seams and shoulder pads making a comeback, could bras and girdles be far behind?

Mr. Brown appears to be very serious about conducting the business of Washington in a business-like manner. Certain people are going to think he's being a stuffed shirt and others are going to think he's being sexist by singling out women's attire, and still others are going to make the point that bras are none of his business, but I, for one, want to wish him well in his efforts to serve the taxpayers well.

People showing up late for work is one thing, but for them to keep the public waiting while they gab away on the phone about who shot J.R. is quite another. If that's the kind of thing that's going on, as a council worker told a reporter, then it is obviously time for drastic action, and I would think he should start out forthwith by scheduling staff meetings for 10 o'clock Friday nights at the Blue Plains sewage treatment plant.

In the interest of fairness, it should be noted that Mr. Brown missed one thing. In the full spirit of his shape-up campaign, he had probably better keep an eye out for those men on his staff who huddle around the water cooler on Monday mornings, quarterbacking the Redskins game. If that continues, he could schedule additional staff meetings on Sunday afternoons or take away their television sets.

That should take care of J. R. and the Redskins, but I can tell him from the voice of experience that the brassiere business is going to be quite another matter. Is she or isn't she? And what do you say if she isn't? It can be quite embarrassing to have to tell a member of the opposite sex that he or she isn't dressed the way he or she is supposed to be.

Any culture that has to communicate such things by saying, "Your fly is open," "You're at half-mast" (or staff, depending on your military affiliation), "The barn door's open," or "Hey, buddy, you left your front door open," not to mention "XYZ . . . PDQ," is going to have a tough time with the brassiere question.

Which is why, as Mr. Brown should have known, certain things are better left alone.