Q I've been noticing that ties look different this year. What is this year's new color?
A: During the '80s, the popular power tie varied in color from year to year. For a long while red was essential to an executive's command appearance. Then the yellow silk foulard had its more than 15 minutes in the limelight. After that, very briefly, purple ties appeared in many offices and occasional boardrooms. Last year's swing was to shades of green: Bright teal (blue-green) accompanying conservative suits and olive appeared with more contemporary Armani-inspired silhouettes.
There is no similar "hot" tie color this year.
Every man needs in his wardrobe a balance of basic ties: reds ranging from stop-light brights through discreet burgundies, blue polka dots, multicolored stripes, small-scaled foulards or "neats" and paisleys. Plus a few "power" ties.
The necktie is going through an evolution. Generally, ties are getting a little wider and a lot wilder.
The trend is toward dark (but definitely not dull), patterned ties in a palette of rich colors: Deep-toned florals, leaf-designs in earth colors, giant paisleys, darkly vivid scenics, and bountiful "harvest" patterns featuring apples, pomegranates, and grapes. The new designs worn with a traditional navy or charcoal suit add a kind of "permitted" frivolity to the basic seriousness of the look.
These wilder ties have found their way into the closets of more than merely fashion-forward men -- rating admiration, compliments and widespread acceptance. Still, they may be looked on askance in some conventional corporate cultures. If you are invited to attend a board of directors meeting, it might be wise to revert to a safe, small foulard, a quiet stripe, or an even quieter pin dot.
Q: When and why have men stopped wearing tie bars, clips or studs in their ties?
A: Many styles are cyclical. About 15 years ago men stopped wearing tie clasps of any kind, even the handsome stick pins they inherited from Granddad. This new style has always seemed somewhat foolish since a tie in the soup is even worse than a fly in the soup! Men can certainly do their own thing and ignore what is in vogue. Still, when something is totally out of fashion, you tend to look out of step with the world going completely against the trend. For years I have been recommending that men not wear clasps and exercise caution at the dinner table. But I still say, "Hold onto any tie jewelry that you own." Such a sensible style will surely return.
One point against clips and especially tie tacks is the damage they may do to fragile silk fabrics. The day of the $5 necktie is past; new ties are expensive. Some of the most beautiful necktie fabrics, such as ancient madder, heavy satins, and silk crepes can develop snags almost as easily as women's stockings.
Send your questions or comments to Lois Fenton, Today in Style, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278. Ms. Fenton welcomes questions about men's dress or grooming for use in this column but regrets she cannot answer mail personally.
Ms. Fenton, the author of "Dress for Excellence" (Rawson Associates, $19.95), conducts wardrobe seminars for Fortune 500 companies around the country.