This ex-soldier of World War II vintage remembers when the Army, obviously trying to make life miserable for its civilians-in-uniform, would conduct something called a "white-glove inspection." A speck of dust when the officer ran his hand over your shelves or foot locker and--bam!--there went your pass.

Now the Army, at Virginia's Fort Lee, has begun what we might call a bulging eyeball inspection. Its sentinels are keeping a stern lookout for short shorts. Wear them and you can't shop at the commissary or the post exchange, or visit the recreational clubs, theaters or post library.

"If the hem of the shorts starts at the crotch or higher, that is short shorts," said Maj. Jay A. Craig, a Fort Lee spokesman, who said the new code is a matter of propriety, not morality. It was the idea of Maj. Gen. Harry L. Dukes Jr., the local commander, who perceived that self-imposed dress standards had declined since he arrived in 1981. Army regulations permit local commanders to impose dress policies.

The PX and commissary checkers who verify ID cards are to check the hem lengths, visually. Those dressed too skimpily must go home, or to the barracks, to get in proper attire.

Also barred from the above places: See-through clothes without undergarment, underwear worn as outerwear (white T-shirts?), clothes bearing slogans or illustrations derogatory to any racial, ethnic, religious or political group, clothing that brings discredit to the Army or to the flag of any nation (including ours), and athletic clothes like sweatshirts, gym shorts, bathing suits and tennis shorts. And--oh, yes--bare feet also are verboten.

Midthigh and Bermuda shorts are permitted.

Connie Groff, the wife of a retired master sergeant, said she and her three children, all wearing shorts, passed muster Saturday at the commissary but failed at the PX.