WASHINGTON - Those dueling lenders, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, are at it again. Their newest field of competition: employee dress codes.

Last week, Fannie Mae instituted a new, more casual code.

Fannie employees join a select group of companies, such as Microsoft and Apple Computer, in casting off their aside suits and ties. Employees can show up to work at the agency's stately Washington headquarters in khaki pants and blazer instead.

Was it mere coincidence that Freddie hardened its dress code the same week? Industry wags think not.

In a message to Freddie Mac employees, chairman Leland Brendsel ended the agency's existing policy of permitting casual attire one day a week.

Professional business attire will be "a full-time standard" at Freddie Mac, according to the memo.

The memo quoted Mr. Brendsel as follows: "Some CEOs who implemented business casual policies think it was the right decision for their companies. But many others wish they had not done so."

The right thing for Freddie Mac's culture, Mr. Brendsel concluded, is for employees to wear professional attire every day.

Among the reasons for the change, the memo said, is that "Freddie Mac is a highly professional and technical organization. Attire should be appropriate to that environment."

At Fannie Mae, things look a bit different. Announcing the change in a letter to employees, the agency said that whereas the 1980s had valued power dressing, what matters now is the bottom line.

The letter outlined some new fashion dos and don'ts.

Jeans, sneakers, flannel shirts, or hiking boots are Fannie fashion faux pas.

Casual skirts or pants for women topped by a sweater or shirt will be part of the new "in" look at Fannie Mae.

And if you are one of those Fannie employees who is more comfortable with the old uniform, that's okay.

"If you prefer to wear traditional business clothing," the employee letter says, "please do."

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.