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At 11 a.m., two hours into Stampede, the Stetson-topped office workers lining the parade route are already slugging back Buds and scarfing down Alberta beef on a bun.

Along 9th Avenue S.W., they're milling impatiently outside Cowboys nightclub, ground zero for Stampede carousing. Belt-buckled power brokers in $500 ostrich-skin cowboy boots pack cellphones in place of six guns and mingle amid griddle steam rather than gun smoke.

"It's 11 - why aren't we sauced?" says one BlackBerry cowboy to another.

"I think I am."

One Calgary broker's e-mail bulletin to investors might capture the mood best: "Good morning. Today, Stampede eve, it begins - Remember the mantra/philosophy - Drink Triple, See Double, Think Single - YEEHAW."

Anywhere else, this would be the party of the century. During the Calgary Stampede, which began Friday and runs until Sunday, this is just another workday.

For the 10 days of Stampede, the offices of downtown Calgary fall largely silent as Wrangler-wearing business folk roam from pancake breakfast to liquid lunch, from evening tent party to shooter bar. They trade in neckties for bolo ties, Gucci shoes for cowboy boots and cufflinks for pearl snaps.

But for some, these expressions of civic pride have become more like civic duty. Working past noon is tantamount to treason. Co-workers operate like fashion police, ridiculing anyone without denim.

Calgarians are famous for working hard and playing hard, but the extra workplace pressure to dress up and whoop up at Stampede time can verge on oppressive.

"The whole thing is like an office Christmas party, but it goes on for 10 days and has this Wild West, 'I'm a cowboy' element," says Janet Keeping, president of the Calgary-based Sheldon Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership.

The coercion comes straight from the top, with managers and supervisors prodding workers to get into the Stampede spirit.

"There is this total tyranny that takes hold," says Holly Irwin, 21, who works at an office supplies outlet in the city. "It's this total Big Brother aspect where they expect you to dress a certain way."

Last year managers at her store took up the Stampede banner and asked every employee to don western gear. "It wasn't like they would tell you that you'd be fired if you didn't wear it, but it is enforced," Ms. Irwin says. "Management comes around and says, 'Where's your spurs?' They don't want to be labelled as the one store in the city that doesn't participate."

The grudging surrender to Stampede rule was fully evident downtown at Lammle's Western Wear & Tack store in the days leading up to Stampede. The suit-and-tie crowd milled about the boot deck and hat racks scrounging for that one western flourish that might satisfy their boss.

Rob Murray, a 31-year-old Shell worker from Newfoundland who moved to Calgary 10 months ago, paced into the store tentatively, flanked by two co-workers.

"I don't know what the heck to buy," he said, browsing through a pile of wide-brim hats. "We don't have cowboy hats in Newfoundland."

Co-worker Michelle Dietrich, 21, sized up a white George Strait model on him. Not quite right.

"You would look pretty funny riding the C-Train without a cowboy hat," she cautioned. "If you don't dress up, your best bet is to get the heck out of town."

That's exactly what Ms. Dietrich, a native Calgarian, has decided to do. "I can't take it any more. The dressing up, the partying - it's all just too much now. I'm going to Vancouver for Stampede."

Mr. Murray's other shopping mate, Darren Paulenko, relayed his cautionary tale about bucking the Stampede dress code. It was 10 years ago, when the 42-year-old was just starting out in the Calgary oil biz. "I showed up to a meeting with my boss and another supervisor wearing a full suit," he said. "After the meeting they came up to me and said something like, 'We got to get you in some clothes. You can't dress like that.' "

With that, they marched him into the nearest western store and loaded him up with snap-button shirts and a cowboy hat.

Sometimes the directive for workers to get their cowboy on isn't so subtle. Members of the Calgary Police Service receive a memo every year encouraging them to dress up, according to a few of Calgary's finest outside Lammle's. One of them was nonplussed. "I'm not going to spend $200 on boots that I wear for a weekend," he said.

There is some room for symbolic dissent under Stampede rule. Ms. Irwin dresses in denim corsets that she designs and sews. "Yeah, it's my little protest. You can't give into the tyranny. Some people come up to me and say I'm not dressed Stampede-y enough. But there are a whole lot more who ask me where they can get one."

So where does Calgary's cowboy autocracy come from anyway? After all, the city has long been linked more to oil than to cattle. "The Stetson makes a better image than a hard hat," says Max Foran, who four years ago started a summer class at the University of Calgary on the culture of the Stampede.

In 1923, the Calgary Stampede was combined with the Calgary Exhibition. The city's annual lapse into urban dude ranch soon followed. "They were dressing up from day one," Dr. Foran says. "And then it picked up with the popularity of western shows on television during the fifties."

The cowboy dress also brought with it cowboy ways.

"Now, people who don't buy into that anything-goes licentiousness of it all are made to feel pretty crummy," says Janet Keeping, the ethics foundation head. "Enormous quantities of alcohol are consumed, people get drunk and do all kinds of things."

As evidence of that, the city's Hotel Arts cheekily introduced a ring check service this year, where partygoers can drop off wedding rings and even have the tan line beneath brushed over before they hit the bars.

Even worse, Ms. Keeping says, is that many of the parties are company-sanctioned.

Last month, the foundation sponsored a panel called The Company Stampede Party Gone Wild: Serious Problem or No Big Deal?, intended to delve into the prickly ethical issues of attending raucous work parties. In one scenario presented to the panel, an engineer is ill-at-ease going to a client's party at a topless bar. In another, a law student's boss presses him to slug back a "booby shot" off a waitress's cleavage.

"Both were based on real-life accounts," Ms. Keeping says. "I don't think it's wrong to have alcohol at work events, but abusing people and sexually harassing people shouldn't be a job requirement."

Even for the most devoted of Stampeders, all the late nights and tipsy company can get to be a little much. "The whole city gets into it," says Sara Cameron, an administrative worker at PrimeWest Energy Trust, clutching a straw cowboy hat. "But the fatigue can set in. There's too much traffic, too many people. I'll just wear this hat for the five days I'm at work, then I'll take a break."

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