Last week's item about the dress habits of federal workers hit a nerve.

Most of the column was quotes from a letter from a civil servant. He said the main reason government workers are treated like bums is because they dress like bums.

Although his observations were written with a light touch, reader response -- by phone and letter -- indicates that many share his concern about feds who, regardless of rank and salary, dress inappropriately for the office.

We received almost 100 letters on the subject. Only one -- I should have known because it was addressed to "Mike Crazy" -- took offense and said the subject was too silly to get space in a news column.

This is what some readers said about how federal workers dress for success:

* "I tried to impose a dress code for my staff. The personnel office and the union told me I couldn't do it. I fought back. Here's how.

"I went to 20 or 30 official functions each year, from White House ceremonies to congressional hearings or meetings with business or foreign VIPs. I always took a staffer or two with me. Whom did I choose? Those who came to work washed, shaved and dressed the way the public expects them to look when they represent the federal government. They went. The others, who looked like they had just gotten out of bed, wore hiking shoes and softball uniforms (I'm not kidding) never left the office. They are probably still wondering why." -- Former Fed

* "As a female professional at the Pentagon, I am amazed at what many women wear to the office: jeans, T-shirts and stretch pants. Polyester is queen in this building. Some women bring a new meaning to the term 'stretch pants.' " -- E Ring Observer

* "Tell Very Very Anonymous he hasn't noticed anything new. I thought perhaps feds were issued those outfits when they went to work.

"Military men have always been atrocious dressers in civilian clothes. They are used to preplanned uniforms and have no idea how to choose off-duty clothing.

"The polyster plaid jackets and slacks in the cheaper stores have been called 'GS 13 specials' at least since 1962 when I started at the Pentagon. Hush Puppies were called 'bureaucrats' oxfords.'

"I wonder what the high-graders do with the money they save by buying awful cheap clothes." -- M.C., Washington

* " . . . One reason the civil service has such lousy dressers is because so many retired military work for the government. The worst of the worst dressers can be found at the Pentagon. When some of these guys enlisted, the style was "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit." After 25 years in the military their newest suit is a 1955 Cary Grant special. Throw in a Dick Tracy hat, a bib that once was a necktie, and a clothespin-sized tie clasp.

"The Reagan administration has damaged the image of the civil service. You don't see people coming out of the University of Virginia, Stanford or Yale looking for government jobs. No offense, but the people who come in are small-town types . . . from Kalamazoo U., or Oklahoma State . . . not trend-setting fashion centers. In many parts of the country you are well dressed if you aren't wearing blue jeans. Ask 90 percent of the men at the Agriculture Department!

"Dress patterns show the limited expectations of government employes. Wear a blue pinstripe suit at the VA and people think you must have a job interview somewhere else. If you know how to dress, government is not the place to do it . . . . The way to advance is to keep a low profile. People who wear expensive suits are viewed with suspicion." -- Energy Department Worker