LONDON – Call it dress-down Wednesday.
The normally suited-and-booted bankers of the City — the square mile which makes up London's main financial center — ditched their business threads for a more casual look, in an attempt to avoid confrontation with thousands of protesters who flooded the area.
The change came after London's Chamber of Commerce suggested the City's denizens forego tailored suits and polished loafers for jeans and T-shirts on the day of protests ahead of Thursday's Group of 20 summit.
They also suggested that nonessential meetings be rescheduled and that security around offices be beefed up.
"It's a strange atmosphere around the City, and everyone seems somewhat apprehensive," said Jeremy Batstone-Carr, head of research at stockbrokers Charles Stanley. "Everyone that should be in the office is in, but we're not taking any chances."
Thousands of protesters converged in the sunshine in front of the Bank of England's imposing edifice, surrounded by a ring of police. The group G20 Meltdown organized four parades representing the "four horsemen of the apocalypse" — war, climate chaos, financial crimes and homelessness.
Some office workers took photographs, while others reportedly taunted the protesters by waving money at them from upper story windows.
London's police were mobilized to deal with the demonstrations across the city — protests were also planned for the U.S. Embassy in leafy Grosvenor Square, outside the hotel where Chinese President Hu Jintao was staying, and in Trafalgar Square.
In 2000 and 2001, anti-globalization protests on May Day saw anarchists smash shop windows and vandalize war memorials.
This week, protective boarding was placed around a war memorial in front of the Royal Exchange, and nearby storefronts were boarded up.
Violence did flare: Windows were smashed at the Royal Bank of Scotland, which was part-nationalized by the British government after a massive bailout.
And bankers themselves appear to have recently been targets. The Edinburgh home of the former head of RBS — who resigned in disgrace but with an annual pension of about 700,000 pounds — was attacked by vandals. In the United States, death threats have been made against AIG executives since a controversy broke over bonuses paid with taxpayer bailout money.
While many City workers chose to don less formal gear, surveyor Colin Byron ignored the advice.
"This is my country, my town," said Byron. "This is the persona I have to (have) to work. I'm old enough to look after myself."
On a BBC radio morning show, listeners were asked to suggest what office workers could wear as an alternative to their suits: One suggested construction workers' uniforms, "so they could dig holes even deeper," another dunce caps. Some city workers said defiantly that bankers should wear their pinstripes and suspenders with pride.
Colin Stanbridge, the Chamber of Commerce's chief executive, said he intended to wear his usual suit and tie into the office.
"What we've said to our staff is if it makes you feel comfortable, please do it," Stanbridge told the BBC. "People think that in the City, people still go around in bowler hats and pinstriped suits."
Simon Grice, 30, who works for a trading company that sent an e-mail to workers that they "should" dress down, loved the opportunity.
"It's nice," Grice said. "We should do this every day."