insult a guy about his taste in neckties and watch him get riled up. We did that when we suggested in a fashion column that clip-on ties are “tacky.”

Boy, did that get readers’ necks in a knot!

We heard from guys who love clip-ons. And we heard from guys who hate them – but defend the right of the convenience-conscious, fashion-challenged or klutzy to wear them.

The vehemence of the responses left no doubt: Whether they knot or clip their ties, men care about neckwear. Even those who have sworn off wearing ties have an opinion about them.

Now, the time seems right to check on the evolving status of neckwear. Sales of men’s ties are on the upswing, say trend-watchers. And women’s ties, which pop up as a quirky accessory every few years, also are expected to be a popular item.

Ties were the crown jewels in the men’s power-dressing movement of the 1980s, says Jerry Andersen, spokesman for the Men’s Dress Furnishings Association, a trade group in New York.

But neckwear fell out of favor during the dress-down 1990s, he says. That’s when casual Friday morphed into casual everyday. And when “business casual” was defined, debated and redefined. When even the most tradition-bound bankers and lawyers swapped their suits and ties for khakis and polo shirts.

Now the tide is turning.

“There’s a return to dressed-up style, especially among younger customers,” says Andersen. “We saw it first with the specialty-store customer, who spends more money on clothes and is more tuned in to fashion.”

The first ripple of change came in 1999, when ABC-TV game-show host Regis Philbin scored a double-whammy. His “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” show was a huge hit – and so were the solid-colored, metallic ties he wore with his dark shirts. Men started buying dress shirts again, just so they could team them with “Regis ties.”

But the dark, tone-on-tone look didn’t last long. “Too dreary,” says Andersen.

It’s being replaced by a flood of striking patterns and brilliant colors, including hot pink. Andersen expects these lively new looks to sweep even the most ardent no-neckwear advocates back into tie departments.

“Our neckwear business is up,” says Craig DeLongy, an owner of John Craig clothiers in Winter Park, Fla. “I think we’re on a run.”

“There are men who love wearing neckwear,” DeLongy explains. “They find adding a new tie to an old shirt is a great way to update their wardrobe. And the neckwear right now is irresistible.”

Orlando, Fla., attorney David Paul is one of those men who are crazy about ties.

“If I really like a tie, I’ll buy it,” says Paul, 34. “I can spend $200 or more on a tie, which is completely irrational. But a really good tie is unique. It ties differently. It sets on you differently.”

He is especially fond of seven-fold neckties by Robert Talbott, which he buys at Christopher Jude clothiers in Orlando for $210 a pop. Fashioned entirely by hand from a single piece of luxurious silk, the tie is folded seven times into itself. The volume and quality of the silk creates a substantial knot and exceptionally elegant drape.

Paul enjoys buying souvenir ties when he travels, giving ties as gifts and trading ties with friends and colleagues. “Kind of like adult baseball cards,” he says.

A necktie “is one of those things you can wear and make a fashion statement without really doing a whole lot,” he says. “Everybody notices your tie. Not everyone likes them, but everyone notices them.”

Nothing kills an outfit like a bad tie, says Carson Kressley, one of the Fab Five hosts on Bravo’s hit show “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.”

In his style guide book, “Off the Cuff” (Dutton), Kressley offers a couple of tie-buying tips:

“People ask how to find a good tie,” he writes. “It’s kind of like when you see a puppy at the animal shelter: When it’s the right one, you’ll know it.”

When shopping for neckwear, “Give the tie a good feel,” Kressley advises. “A good tie will have an inner construction that is actually tangible. If you took it apart, there would be something like a piece of mesh or screen that gives body to the structure. A bad tie is wimpy and soft.”

The most useful tie knot is the four-in-hand, which works with all collar types, except the widest spread collar, he says. (Coachmen who drove a team of four horses, or four-in-hand, knotted their neckwear in this fashion, hence the name.)

Bow ties should not be worn with regular suits, he believes. That look is “just a little too Orville Redenbacher.” And when they are worn with a tuxedo, they should be hand-tied.

Which brings us back to clip-on ties. Style gurus do not like them. But some guys appreciate the convenience, especially if medical conditions such as arthritis or dyslexia make knotting a tie painful or difficult. (J.C. Penney, Sears and Big & Tall Men’s Wear are among the few stores that carry clip-on ties for adults.)

Men who work close to machinery with moving parts often wear clip-ons as a safety precaution. If the tie gets caught in the machinery, it pops off. The tie may get chewed up, but not the wearer.

Police officers also wear clip-ons, usually made from the same material and the same color as their shirts.

“If someone were to grab them by the tie, he couldn’t swing them around or use it to choke them. The tie would simply come off,” says Sgt. Brian Gilliam, public information officer for the Orlando Police Department.

So, if a police officer is wearing a regular wrap-and-knot tie with his uniform, it means just one thing, says Gilliam: “He’s top brass, and he’s in a formal setting.”

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