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Formal tie knot a complex feat

Question: With all of the weddings and black-tie occasions that are coming up this season, I need some help. My problem is I don't know how to tie a bow tie. I'm considered a pretty sharp dresser, and it somehow seems wrong to be wearing a pre-tied bow tie. How hard is it to learn? _ C. C., Baltimore, Md.

Answer: The world of black-tie dressing is divided _ not very equally _ between those men who do, and those who do not, know how to tie their own bow ties. It seems strange that no young man past his early teens would be caught dead having his father _ or anyone else, for that matter _ knot his four-in-hand necktie. Yet perfectly competent men of all ages _ able and apt in the art of dressing themselves _ believe they cannot possibly learn to tie a bow tie. Nonsense! It takes some practice, but it is only slightly more difficult than tying your shoes.

See procedure at right.

Collar a stylish look

Question: Can you give me any suggestions as to where I can find men's shirts with interesting or different collars? Years ago I had a couple of shirts that I liked with rounded (English type) collars. Are these declasse? _ D. S. Pacific Grove, Calif.

Answer: The collar you described _ usually known as the club collar _ is not at all socially unacceptable, but these days it is almost impossible to find. This small, Peter Pan-type collar is often worn with a collar bar or pin. Brooks Brothers made it until recently; they called it the "golf" collar. Now, they make it only through special order.

You are wise to seek out additional flattering shirt cuts. There is no reason a man must confine himself to only one style; but do choose ones that suit your personality. Widely available shirt collars are:

BUTTON-DOWN: Never pulled tight to the buttons, the characteristic soft buckling, known as the "roll" of the collar, imparts a casual spirit _ perfect for wear with blazers, tweeds and natural-shouldered suits. Button-downs are commonly associated with Oxford cloth fabric, but they also come in more formal broadcloth and of late in the seen-everywhere casual weaves, denim and chambray.

REGULAR STRAIGHT POINT: The most standard cut has points about 3 inches long, may be crisply starched, and often has collar stays. It can have two personalities: Worn unadorned, it is a go-everywhere and with-everything style; or, pinched in with a collar bar or pin, it has a dressier, much more elegant look.

SPREAD: This most formal of all collars is perhaps a shade too dressy for the American business look. It is best with dark, pin-striped suits of a decidedly English flair or with double-breasted blue blazers. On the other hand, many men who do not wear suits to work are especially fond of this look for special dress-up occasions.

TAB COLLAR: A precise, crisp collar with tiny tabs of fabric that attach under the knot of the necktie. It is a fastidious, but not fussy, look. Some men find attaching the tabs a bother. The nuisance is worth the effort; tab collars are flattering and highly appealing.

Favorites have a way of coming back

Question: I took your advice and ordered from the Chock Catalog cotton socks in sizes (instead of one-size-fits-all). Now, do you know anyone selling men's turtleneck dickies? I haven't seen them for about five years.

Also, do you know who sells "boat-neck" sweaters? The last time I saw them they were on the cover of L. L. Bean's catalog about four years ago. I do not care for crew necks. I still have a heavy black boat-neck, but it is quite a bit tight for me now. Hope you can help. _ W. F. S., Baltimore, Md.

Answer: Styles _ even men's styles _ come and go. Though most men insist that they are not influenced by the winds of fashion, they are often unwitting victims of what is in vogue. As with self-fulfilling prophecies, when manufacturers stop making an item because they think it is out of style, the consumer cannot buy it, and soon it is indeed out of style.

I have located the dickies, but I'm afraid you won't have much luck with the boat-neck sweater.

A recent question about where to find men's all-cotton one-piece union suits brought letters from readers across the country telling me about a charming catalog from the Vermont Country Store. With the philosophy of the rural country store, it supplies useful, functional and hard-to-locate items. Its emphasis is on natural fibers. They sell all-cotton long-john underwear and also cotton turtleneck dickeys. Write to Rt. 100, Weston, VT, or call (802) 362-2400.

But the boat-neck sweater seems to be another matter. With its almost-from-shoulder-to-shoulder slashed opening, it certainly is a handsome, comfortable style. Being wider at the neckline than crew necks, it slips easily over the head. The only styles available in pullover sweaters these days are crew necks, V-necks and two- or three-buttoned polo openings. The old boat-neck sweater is nowhere in evidence. Be patient for a few more years; it was a classic, flattering design that is bound to return. Or if you're lucky, you might find a knitter who's willing to whip one up for you.

Sleeve trim not for all

Question: In regard to the person who had his jacket sleeves lengthened, leaving a prominent crease that did not come out with pressing: I had the tailor fix it. My husband experienced the same with a lovely camel's hair top coat. The tailor stitched four or five rows of very small stitches very close together around the sleeve. It makes a lovely and very neat finish to the sleeve. _ N.

W.

A., Clearwater

Answer: Such a solution is usually more feasible for women's outfits, because women's styles allow for many variations. Stitches and pleats and tucks can be added without detracting from the basic style. But men's clothes are less adaptable; the designs are highly dictated. I doubt that a man who dresses fastidiously and follows fashion closely would be satisfied with such an answer. A perfectionist would be so aware of the line _ and the unorthodox stitches _ that he would not wear the coat again. For others, it may be fine.

Most smooth textures and solid color fabrics (such as your camel's hair coat) will show the mark when a sleeve or hem is let out. Lines are less likely to show on rough fabrics with busy patterns, such as a Harris tweed, wool plaid or houndstooth _ anything that has some nap or nubby texture to it.

Lois Fenton, author of Dress for Excellence, conducts wardrobe seminars for Fortune 500 companies around the country. She welcomes questions about men's dress or grooming for use in this column but regrets she cannot answer mail personally. Send your questions or comments to Lois Fenton, Floridian, Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL. 33731.

Six steps for tying a bow tie properly

1. Begin with one end (whichever one you prefer, but if you are right-handed, it is usually easier to hold the longer end in your right hand) 1 1/2 inches longer than the other. Cross the longer end over the shorter one.

2. Bring the longer end up throught the back. (This is the same as tying your shoe.) Keep long end above the other. Pull tight.

3. Steps 3 and 4 are the crucial ones, different from tying your shoe. The original shorter piece is now the one that hangs closest to your body. Form front loop by folding this short end horizontally across (making a sort of S shape exactly as in drawing number 3).

4. While holding front loop, drop long end down in front.

5. Create second loop with it by poking long end through hole behind first loop. This part is once again just like tying your shoe.

6. Pull two parts evenly. Loosen the part around your neck until comfortable. Tighten the bow. This takes some adjusting and practice at first.

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