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FASHION : Past Ties : Styles and colors in men's neckwear have returned to the 1960s, but they've been reinterpreted for the 1990s.

March 28, 1991|AURORA MACKEY ARMSTRONG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was pouring rain outside, the kids were finally asleep and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to curl up with one of the women's magazines my husband likes to call "brain popcorn."

Admittedly, I usually take a lot of the magazines' advice columns in stride. The majority of them seem to think that the issues most important to me--such as discovering why my family thinks dirty laundry miraculously becomes clean again if they leave it in a heap long enough--aren't glamorous enough.

One column, however, made me sit up and take notice.

"If you want to really flatter a man without coming on too strong to him," it read, "tell him how much you like his tie."

Now this, I realized, was an approach I had never considered. Actually, men's neckties were something I had never considered. Probably the last time I even looked at a man's tie for more than five seconds was when I was 9 years old. I can still see myself clutching $5 in hard-earned quarters in my hand, trying desperately to find one I could afford for my father's birthday.

But there must be some law of physics (and if there isn't, there ought to be) that says that if you have even a vague thought about something, it will suddenly show up in daily life. The very next day, a male friend on his way to a job interview nervously asked me what I thought of his tie.

I stared at it intently. "Well, it looks very. . . ." My voice trailed off. It had stripes on it. It was blue. There were no food stains on it. The only word I could think of to describe it was clean . Instead, I remembered the column I had read and decided to give the flattery technique a try. "I really love that tie," I said. "It's so . . . so you ." Miracle of miracles, my friend broke into a smile. Brain popcorn, indeed.

But this whole tie business got me thinking. Women have lots of ways to spruce up an outfit: with high- or low-heeled shoes, a scarf draped around their necks or accessories. For men--at least if they are in a conservative work environment--ties are about it. "What ties are in fashion?" I wondered, "and which ones are popular in Ventura County?"

I took off on what I thought would be a simple trip to a few department stores. Instead, it was a bit like putting one foot into the past.

Instead of the expected stripes and polka dots, I found racks and racks of paisley prints popularized in the '60s. Next to those were bright floral prints reminiscent of Flower Power days. And unless I was imagining things, they all looked as if they'd gotten fatter.

"I wouldn't scare people away by saying fatter," said Robert Rosenthal, fashion director for Bullock's department stores. "They are getting wider."

I was tempted to ask if he'd be so kind as to explain the distinction to my husband the next time he comments that I've put on a bit of weight. ("She's not fatter, sir, just wider.") Instead, I asked about the resemblance to ties of the '60s.

"The consumer gets nervous when you say, 'It's the '60s again,' " Rosenthal said. "What '90s designers have done is take the best elements of the '60s--the patterns, the explosion of color--and reinterpreted them for the '90s customer."

In addition to paisley and floral prints, Rosenthal said, "conversational-type prints"--including ski scenes, matchbook covers, pocket watches and golf courses--are now big sellers. Most range in price from $30 to $100.

And what do the '90s customers think of these "new" styles? A few of the men I talked to said they liked the floral designs but had no desire to start up conversations over what was hanging around their necks.

But while there was no consensus on the prints, the majority of men I talked to agreed on one thing. Kamice Henry, a sales associate with the Broadway in Ventura, said she's also heard the same thing since the ties first came into stock.

"They all say they wish they hadn't thrown away all those ties from the '60s and '70s," she said. "If they hadn't, all of them would be in style right now."

* THE PREMISE

Ventura County is teeming with the fashionable and not so fashionable. There are trend-makers and trend-breakers. There are those with style--personal and off the rack--and those making fashion statements better left unsaid. Twice a month, we'll be taking a look at fashion in Ventura County--trends, styles and ideas--and asking you what you think. If you have a fashion problem, sighting or suggestion, or if you know a fashion success or a fashion victim, let us know. We want to hear from you.

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