What do we do about dad? Here it is, coming up on Father's Day with the same hurdles on the shopping track.
Fathers tend to fall into three categories: The nit-picks, who have their peculiarities about clothes and refuse all change; the I-dunnos, who haven't a clue and pay no attention, and the I-don't-need-anything dads who are happy with a three-pack of new underwear.
Yet every year the family wants to give something special, something he'll enjoy, something other than a tie.
Socks can say it all. Men's hosiery counters now have a fashion language of their own. The muted black, navy and gray varieties are taking a back seat to designer variations that have a sense of style and a sense of humor.
And youngsters who go along on the shopping trip won't be bored. Picking socks for dad can be just as much fun as a comic book.
"The Nicole Miller line has a great a sense of humor," says Eddie Steinberg of J.S. Edwards Ltd. at the Festival at Woodholme. "The patterns include license plates with cute messages, basketball players, World Cup soccer patterns. Some of her socks picture funky ties from her collection.
"Socks are a way for a man to show a little attitude," says Mr. Steinberg. "They work something like a camisoles do for women. They're not a major component of an outfit, but a hint of color or pattern shows the man has a leg up on style."
It took a long time to get men into patterns and colors, however, in a recessionary economy, a great sock can update a wardrobe with minimal expense.
Sales show that men have learned to go a little wilder. "The Polo safari sock, in tiger, zebra and leopard prints has been our number one seller across the country," says Gary Henkin, national sales and marketing manager for Polo/Gordon Walker hosiery for men.
"For fall there will be a move to smaller patterns, but the conversationals are very strong now," says Mr. Henkin. "There are almost no limits on designs and patterns. A man can now step out in color, sports themes and animal prints."
For fathers with an artistic side, E.G. Smith socks go to the museum with prints of the Mona Lisa, Van Gogh's self-portrait or Botticelli's Venus on the half shell.
For fathers who won't budge beyond one color, there are beautiful cotton weekend socks in rough washed melons, blues and chinos.
Beyond the sock counters, there are many other colorful clothing gifts. Here are some Father's Day gift suggestions from area haber--ers:
Arnold Borenstein of Eclectic at the Gallery says bow ties are bigger than ever before. "Men are wearing anything from narrower retro bows to chunky butterflies. Another good gift would be Hawaiian print swim shorts and matching camp shirt in bold patterns.
"It's the '90s. Nobody wants to stand out," says Mr. Borenstein, "but older guys still want to be bright and feel good. When I'm on vacation I want to send the message that 'Hey, you won't believe it, but I was once hip.' "
Jay Bevan, merchandising manager of Kavanaugh's, says ties, especially novelty prints, are still a good idea. He also recommends oversize sport shirts because they are so comfortable to wear in summer. And don't forget braces: In conservative or bold prints, they're still a fashion factor here.
Harvey Hyatt of the Hyatt & Co. stores votes for a gift tie. "A tie is a perennial, but is always well-received. We have Hugo Boss ties that have scenic and whimsical designs. Some of them are made in a beautiful sueded silk. They feel so good that I would hope my dad learns to fiddle with his tie instead of lighting up a pipe."
He also suggests colorful cotton sweaters which can be worn through many seasons. "The Coogi sweaters are terrific and the colors are better than ever, but the polo collar is newer now." He sees swimwear as a good gift selection. "Fancy swim trunks are fun. Young people especially like to buy Dad something that would make him look cool, like Nautica trunks made of colorful patchwork."
Brian Lefka, buyer for Sam Glass & Sons on Gay Street suggests pulling out all the stops when it comes to Father's Day. "A patterned or abstract silk shirt would make him feel plush and rich. Or buy him a tie. They are so beautiful now a man can't have enough of them."
Another way to update father would be dressy linen shorts for the summer, he says, but to be really with it they should be double- or triple-pleated.
"In most families, dad gets the crumbs of the clothing budget," says Mr. Lefka. "The children always come first, then the wife gets her share and dad is left to last. The thinking is that dad can always make do with last year's clothes because men's fashions don't change that much. It would be nice to buy him something really special this year."