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Some lament a winter full of dress-down days

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By Christopher Muther
Globe Staff / February 3, 2011

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As he schlepped over slushy sidewalks in South Boston, investment consultant Perry Wilkes looked as if he were on his way to an ice fishing derby rather than a white-collar job downtown. Normally, Wilkes wears a suit coat and slacks, but yesterday he was in jeans, large black boots, and a jacket that looked as if it could withstand the winds atop Mount Washington.

He wasn’t the only one. With every recent storm, the desire to look presentable at work has seemed to erode like a bit of Cape Cod shoreline. By the time Tuesday’s snow gave way to yesterday’s messy sleet and rain, professional attire had pretty much given way to clothes previously appropriate only for a lazy Sunday around the house.

“I’ve definitely noticed a decline,’’ Wilkes said as he boarded the Red Line train at the Broadway stop. “Normally I see sports coats and dress pants at work, but not as much over the past few weeks. It seems to have slipped a lot.’’

Meanwhile, the fashionable Alyssa Cannella waited at South Station in knee-high rubber boots and a thick jacket, lamenting the sartorial sacrifices she has made because of the weather.

“Normally I’m in heels and skirts,’’ said Cannella, 23, who works as a receptionist at the Framingham Board of Health, commuting from Brighton every day. “But this weather makes it very difficult to wear those things. I’ve been wearing pants, and changing into flats. But yesterday I didn’t even bother changing out of my boots. I usually try to look good because I see a lot of people every day, but lately it’s getting more difficult to do that.’’

Boston’s winter-induced stylistic decline is also on display in cubicles around town. At the staffing firm Winter Wyman, senior vice president Michelle Roccia has noted waning concern among employees over appearance since the stormy season began.

“We see a lot of suits and skirts here, but we’re not seeing as many these days,’’ Roccia said. “It still may be nice pants, but they’re more on the casual side. But you can see the decline in clothing. We’re also seeing a lot of scarves that aren’t coming off, and if it’s really cold, sometimes the gloves and mittens stay on.’’

Even lawyers have resorted to jeans.

“I think our clients are interested in having our staff in the office and available more than what they’re wearing,’’ said Bob Bodian, managing partner at the firm Mintz Levin.

Some workers are taking comfort dressing to new heights. An employee at a New Hampshire college has been attending meetings wearing her Snuggie, a blanket with sleeves. Her employer asked her not to discuss the controversial office Snuggie with the Globe for fear that people may think the college isn’t adequately heating its buildings.

In fact many employees — and even some employers — are tight-lipped about office attire on inclement days for fear that unspoken rules about relaxed snow day work ensembles would be changed if they spoke publicly.

While some employers are nonplussed by the gradual degradation of office attire this winter, others are not letting the snow serve as an excuse for lackadaisical appearance. Even before the first flakes fell this week, employees at Mansfield-based Covidien, which produces medical devices and pharmaceuticals, received a memo reminding them that blue jeans are not appropriate, even on snow days.

“We’re a business-casual company to begin with,’’ said Eric Kraus, senior vice president of corporate communications at Covidien. “I think it would be a bigger deal if it was a traditional suit-and-tie environment.’’

A pair of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney investment bankers disagree. Waiting for a delayed New York train yesterday morning, the pair were deep in conversation about how companies should create an instant casual-day policy during snowstorms.

“It’s crazy, because you can ruin nice shoes walking around in this mess,’’ said Michael Wichser.

Getting to work without looking like a slush puddle is especially challenging for those who walk to work or take public transportation. Sarah Goldman, 33, an IT consultant who was riding the Green Line during the height of Tuesday’s snow, said that it’s obvious who in her office takes public transportation and who drives to work.

“I come in with a serious case of static hair, six layers of sweaters and scarves, salt stains on my pants, and a runny nose,’’ she said with more than a hint of resentment in her voice. “The woman who sits next to me drives in and always looks immaculate. Basically I’ve given up trying. Most of us are in the same boat.’’

Even those who pride themselves on looking stylish throughout the year admit that this winter is presenting challenges. Alesha Barnes, 27, a buyer for TJX, has been trying to coordinate outfits around her two pairs of Wellington boots for the past month. However, her passion for dressing around the boots has greatly diminished since the first snowfall.

The challenge isn’t restricted to work. On Tuesday night, 26-year-old Suzanne Williams nursed a vodka tonic at Silvertone and lamented how the parade of snowstorms is getting in the way of her love life.

“Honestly, I don’t care if I look like a slob at work,’’ she said. “But when I’m out, I want to look good, and it’s tough to feel sexy in a big sweater and a bad case of hat head.’’

Christopher Muther can be reached at muther@globe.com.