GIORGIO ARMANI may make the finest women's trouser suits in the world - so beautifully tailored that it is virtually impossible for anyone who wears them to look under-dressed - but few senior corporate executives would consider putting one on for a day at the office. Designer labelled or not, trousers are still considered too casual for middle or high-level executives in many top corporations. While dress policies are rarely spelled out in detail in company handbooks, women executives say the skirts-only rule is a tacit one - but they do not want to risk rocking the company boat by breaking it. 'Within the company nobody has mentioned it but it is more than a personal preference than company influence,' said Mandy Standing, a tax director at Price Waterhouse. 'You can maybe get away with it for one day. But if you do it every day, somebody might say something.' While in most corporations men are abandoning pinstripes in favour of a more relaxed approach to dressing, senior women executives are tending to stick to conventional clothes for the workplace: dark suits, knee-length skirts, panty-hose. One corporate handbook put 'dress pants' in the same category as denim jeans and T-shirts - none of which can be worn to the office. 'In principle, things haven't changed,' said a human resources manager who asked not to be named. 'Dressing in pants for women is not something our company encourages. We think our female executives should be sensible enough not to.' For many companies, dress codes are all about image. 'This is a beautiful hotel and while we don't want our staff to be very stiff; we do want them to be well-dressed,' said Peter Jentes, general manager of the Grand Hyatt, whose non-uniformed women executives must, without exception, always wear dark skirt suits. 'We provide our staff with expensive, beautifully designed uniforms and even for our non-uniformed staff this look should be carried through the whole hotel at all times. 'They can't run around with chains and rings and long hair. Maybe it is a little old-fashioned, but we are trying to create a certain look and we have to be strict about it.' Ultimately, the objective behind a properly enforced dress code is to impress clients and the bottom line is to enhance business prospects. 'Employees are absolutely not allowed to wear pants in my office,' said Mary Chiang, who owns a successful public relations and marketing company. 'Pants can mean anything - jeans or shorts - so I categorically say no. You never know who they might have to see.' Perhaps the only exception to the rule is in companies where having a trendy, contemporary image is more important than an unmoveable, proper one - like fashion and advertising businesses. Judy Hunt, marketing manager of luxury fashion distributor Bluebell Group, says that as long as an outfit is 'nothing too crazy, we can wear just about anything, except jeans and flip-flops'. Trendy hipster pants, silver sneakers and even a funky mohair cropped top could all be considered appropriate in the Bluebell office. 'Because we work in the fashion business, we have to follow trends to a certain extent, although we don't want to be fashion victims,' said Ms Hunt. 'I've worn a designer tennis skirt and silver sneakers - maybe not to a boardroom meeting - but around the office, because that was the look at the time. 'It's part of my job so why shouldn't I wear these clothes. I want people to see them and ask about them.' The conservative corporate clothing culture extends beyond trouser suits versus skirt suits; colours - or the lack of them - are sometimes as important in determining if an outfit qualifies as 'workish' enough. Other corporations are not quite as rigid in their outlook. Ms Standing said she might put a brightly coloured jacket with a black skirt, or wear a pastel pink shade to give a softer look to her appearance. 'Things are slightly more relaxed in that it is no longer always just a case of dark suits,' said Belinda Kwan, general manager of Gianni Versace in Hong Kong. 'We are seeing bankers and lawyers in smart pastel jackets and subtle details like fun buttons. They might only wear pant-suits if they are not seeing clients that day. But they are still very much in a minority.' Even employees of less conservative work environments know where to draw the line. 'We can get away with bright colours and prints, and even shorts that are part of a suit, but nothing that looks really casual like jeans, halter-necks, something that reveals the midriff and denim jackets,' Ms Hunt said. 'In Hong Kong, working women are quite conservative. But because we are in fashion, the bosses are a little more tolerant.' Clearly, women executives are satisfied enough with the officaldom that still governs corporate dress sense in Hong Kong, to maintain the status quo. 'When I worked for the Mandarin Oriental hotel 20 years ago, I would be frowned upon if I wore something flowery to work,' said Ms Chiang. 'But why should things have to change? Dressing well gets you through the door, it gives you confidence to carry things off, and you won't worry about looking like you've just gatecrashed a party.' Other executives concur. 'What you are wearing when you first see clients and staff projects a certain image to them,' said Ms Standing. 'Because the nature of the business I am in is people-orientated, it is important that I dress a certain way. I need to look professional, approachable and friendly. 'I recently had to attend a conference outside the office and wore a trouser suit there because I wanted to look smart-casual. But if I was going to see a client, I wouldn't want to give them the impression that I was casual in any respect, and didn't take the work seriously. I need to look like I know what I'm doing.'