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Levi's Vs. The Dress Code

Its stealth campaign is redefining business wear

Last summer, Charles Schwab & Co. decided to take its broker-next-door image a step further and do something nice for employees at the same time. Its dresses-and-suits-dress code was relaxed to include casual attire as well. But when workers started showing up in the office wearing everything from sweat suits to torn jeans, Schwab knew it needed help. So it called in another San Francisco company, Levi Strauss & Co., for a little fashion advice.

What it got was a lot more than advice. The world's largest branded-apparel maker sent over some snazzy brochures showing how dress could be casual without being sloppy. It provided lists of other companies that had successfully shed traditional attire and studies that showed how the apparel shift had improved workers' productivity and morale. And Levi's dispatched a video that it produced on the subject of casual business wear, which Schwab played in its cafeteria and at meetings. "People asked whether we were pushing Levi's merchandise," recalls Julius James, a human-resource director.