Q. I have a rack full of polka-dot ties. It has become something of a joke in my office. But I don't like striped ties; I have a scar and I think they accent it. Other than dull, one-color ties, in what direction can I go?
A. You can choose from a whole range of patterns. And in 1992, neckties have changed so much that your choice is wider than ever before.
For years I stressed in my lectures that a businessman should not own a tie that didn't have a "name," such as a solid, a foulard, a polka-dot, a stripe, a club, a paisley, even a plaid. Today's acceptable ties have expanded to include offbeat patterns never before seen in boardrooms: geometrics, dark florals, and over-scaled motifs.
The following is a list of the most traditional pattern names for ties. You need not choose them all. But some from column A and some from column B, as with a Chinese menu, might give you a well-rounded assortment.
* Solid colors. Textures range from fine silks, heavy wovens and wools, on through square-ended knits of wool, or cotton, or silk. Solids need not look dull, especially when they accent a striped shirt.
* Foulards. Smooth silk with a small repeat pattern. The tiniest of these all-over prints are referred to as "traditional neats." Today foulards also include larger-sized medallions.
* Polka-dots. Super-sized dots are strictly for wear with blazers. Medium sizes work with most suits. The smallest, and dressiest, are called pin dots. Light pin dots on dark backgrounds, such as white on navy -- what I call "the diplomat look" -- are as formal as ties get. These elegant pin dots have a cachet that does not work with casual sport coats.
* Paisleys. A swirled pattern of teardrop shapes is less formal and usually more colorful than traditional neats or foulards. Paisleys can add a welcome bit of -- to an otherwise too-staid combination.
* Stripes. Most often made of rep, a ribbed or corded silk fabric. Though far less popular than in the past, every wardrobe can use a few bold regimental stripes. Regimentals have their origin in the distinctive stripes of various British military regiments, but LTC those meanings have long been lost at the jumbled tie counters of the world.
You can avoid wearing stripes if you think they accent your scar. You're probably the only one who notices, but how you feel is most important. Your clothes are supposed to make you feel good.
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.