Men's ties have been enjoying themselves in recent seasons. Ties went for the gusto and got it -- perhaps a bit too much of it.
We have seen ties splash brilliant colors all over themselves, parade about in whimsical and wacky prints and, in their worst lapses of judgment, paint themselves with a naked lady or two.
Now, ties are calming down. Some are even finding sobriety.
This isn't to say that those fun prints made famous by makers such as Nicole Miller are now as incorrect as belching in public (even if some of them have the same effect). Such ties were, after all, one of the best ways to start a conversation with a woman, which is perhaps why they are called "conversationals."
But, according to many in the tie trade, the new mood in neckwear is noticeably more conservative. It telegraphs a message something like this: "I'm a sophisticated yet lively male, and my striped silk tie in brilliant hues communicates this instantly."
Gentlemen, the striped rep tie is back. (Rep, for those of you new to fashion, is a type of ribbed fabric -- silk, in this case.) The stripes are often in new combinations of colors, such as purple and red with green, not the standard burgundy, navy and gray.
Some neckwear experts also are saying that knit ties and those with itty-bitty "micro" patterns are coming back big-time.
All those zippy ties "killed the market," says Gary Boyd, an account executive with the Manhattan Menswear Group, which represents several tie makers. "Everyone in the market went for conversationals, and now everyone is looking for something different."
Not absolutely everyone wants something new, however. Some guys are just figuring out this girls-talk-to-you conversationals tie thing. At The Tie Shop in Dallas, buyer Monica Durant says the wild and fun patterns have some life left in them.
"There are a number of people just now getting comfortable with conversationals," Ms. Durant says.
Harold Sweet, president of the Dallas-based neckwear company Sweet Manufacturing, is still filling orders for all manner of bold prints, florals and abstracts.
"I keep reading that the trend is for stripes, but stores still want conversationals," Mr. Sweet says.
Indeed, the tie market seems unsure of itself at this moment.
"There is no one particular shift in the market," says Tom Julian, fashion director at the Men's Fashion Association. "There are sand-washed ties, gem-toned ties and ties in new colors of stripes. Black-and-white has become important, too."
Ties, of course, balance what is going on in clothing. As jackets became duller a few years back, the ties overcompensated with color. And with black-and-white becoming a strong theme in menswear, so goes it in neckwear.
Some retailers are watching for a return to the knit tie, which has been resurrected by Robert Talbott, Donna Karan and Alexander Julian. The news is that this one is pointed, not square, at the ends.
"The fashion-conscious guy will be buying one, but I don't think it will sweep the industry," says Ken Helfman of Ken's Man's Shop in suburban Garland, Texas.
In some quarters of the industry, observers are quietly waiting for a return to the bow tie. "We've got a whole generation who grew up in blue jeans," says Joe Bell of the Specialty Apparel Group, a menswear sales organization. "They forgot everything men ever knew about style. Now these people are rediscovering a sophisticated image."
A bow tie does tend to add I.Q. points to its wearer's image. But the point about neckwear is wearing what suits you and your suits. Wide lapels require wider ties; darker suits scream for color and ties yearn to breathe free.
Perhaps the most common thread in new neckwear is width. During its frolic with whimsy, the tie bloated to a four-inch width -- for better viewing of those naked ladies. Now the girl is gone, but the girth remains.