TIME WAS when a woman who waited on tables was likely to wear a plain uniform, sensible shoes and support hose to get her through a long shift on a tough job. Many still do. But others are expected to dress as cowgirls, bunnies, Indian maidens and pirates (pirettes?), to name a few of the theatrical possibilities. Judging by the amount of limb and torso left uncovered by these costumes, most were produced in a place suffering a shortage of yard goods; they are not your everyday work attire.

As a diner you may be titillated by this or appalled by it, or you may be more interested in your mashed potatoes. But you may also wonder whether some of the waitresses dislike wearing such outfits and whether they can do anything about it. Two women who worked at a restaurant in Bethesda did dislike it, and they say they lost their jobs because they started wearing trousers instead of shorts when waiting tables. The management says the two "resigned." In any event, shorts were the issue.The shorts are not scanty (a vice president of the restaurant chain involved said they're "more conservative" than the skirts its waitresses used to wear), but they are shorts, and only women are required to wear them; male waiters wear trousers. One of the women said she got tired of being "harassed by customers telling you what beautiful legs you have."

The two have taken their cases to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Montgomery County Human Relations Commission. Most waitresses who don't like such dress codes -- not just that involved in the Bethesda case but also some of the considerably less dignified ones in other eating places -- probably continue to put up with them and keep quiet because they need the work.

But as a customer, you don't have to be a prig or a flaming feminist to be offended by this sort of thing and to let the management know about it.