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FASHION TIE-IN: NATTY NECKWEAR IN FLOWER - PRINTS, PAISLEY, TOO

Let's face it. Giving good old Dad a tie for Father's Day won't earn you points in the World's Most Original Offspring contest.

But despite the stigma associated with tie giving, ties are almost always something Dad wants, wears and appreciates.Seven million Americans plan on giving their dads and granddads a tie on June 17, according to the Dallas Menswear Mart. Hopefully, most of them will be happy with the gift. A 1989 survey by Tie Rack found that 60 percent of the men would rather receive a tie than some other item of apparel.

Like sweaters in the fall and swimsuits in the spring, Father's Day is tie-buying season. And even though ties take a back seat to sales of knit shirts, casual pants and sports wear in general, the divisional merchandise manager for ZCMI Menswear said tie sales always triple this time of year.

"Ties are big because they're easy to select and one size fits all," said Joe Frodsham. "The excitement this year has not been in the suit colors, it's been extremely strong in the tie."

Indeed, the preferred look in suits is the darker colors - navy blues and charcoals, for example. Vibrant colors in subtle abstracts and designs brings the color out of the suit and provides the pizazz for the fashion conscious. "Ties have been darker, but they put in colors to give it pop," he said.

"Men can spend big bucks on a new suit and rarely receive compliments, but they put on a sharp, new tie and people take notice," said Barry Wells, designer of Barry Wells Neckwear.

Gone are the days when striped ties dominated the fashion scene. They're in the minority this year. Heading the list are ties with recognizable images, paisley prints and abstract designs.

In fact, you can find practically any design and color imaginable. But be careful. For example, a boldly designed, brightly colored tie might not be what a conservative dad would wear. So hang on to that sales receipt; an exchange might be necessary.

"Flower power" is the hot look this summer and has been well-received in Salt Lake City, Frodsham said. But the jacquard overprints continue to hold solid ground in neckwear popularity with a broader base of customers.

"The floral provides a great look, but the jacquard has a much more elegant and sophisticated look," he said. "This spring, it has come out as a much stronger fashion that we've taken notice of and it's very handsome."

A jacquard overprint is a solid color fabric woven on a jacquard loom with a pattern such as a paisley or geometric. On this, another design is printed in strong accent colors. "It's the play against the two that is extremely interesting," Frodsham said.

Today's ties are continuing to subtly get wider and wider, too. Although the expansion is slow - not more than 3/8 of an inch in the past two to four years - the trend continues. Most ties are 3 3/4 inches wide.

Printed silks, softer textures in wovens and new linings will give ties an easier drape this spring. In backgrounds, look for greens - teals, olive, kelly, hunter and sage. Red, which has been a top-selling color, will give way to dusty rose, mauve and soft pink, manufacturers say.

At most stores, silk continues to be the tie of preference. "When it ties, it will hold, whereas with polyester, the tie tends to slip out," Frodsham said. "The majority of our business is silk . . . It's a way of life, now."

Silk ties sell for as low as $12 for the lighter weight silk. The "Honda Accord" of silk ties of "moderate weight" sell for between $22 and $30, which accounts for about 60 percent of ZCMI's tie business, he said. Gant, Dior, Hathaway and Liberty House are popular brand names.

The BMWs of silk ties sell for between $35 and $50, which accounts for about 20 percent of business. "People like them better, and there's a solid nucleus of them," he said.

Conversational themes are also getting a good reaction at many clothiers. These include everything from representations of airplanes to chili peppers and are usually interpreted on printed silks. A tie that reflects a hobby or an interest is usually a safe bet.

Still confused about a tie for Dad? Then stop by See's Candies and get him a tie made from chocolate. He may never wear it - unless a morsel lands on his shirt!