SURE, MAYBE you wouldn't know it to look at me, but I read the fashion magazines and am thoroughly up on the latest styles for men, at least the styles worn by the brooding 20-somethings with gelled hair who slouch against grimy subway walls in all the ads for Calvin Klein, Nautica, Evan Picone, etc.
This fall, the "look" for men is said to be dressier, less informal than in past years. Gone, apparently, are the days when you could throw on a golf shirt and khakis for that Rotarian of the Year dinner, or slip into a satin warm-up suit favored by the likes of Al Sharpton and Eminem to meet the Queen Mother.
The other thing the fashion mags say about men's clothing is that the suit is back, to which I had this immediate reaction: What about the tie? Does the tie have to come back, too?
Oh, I hate ties. I hate everything about a tie: the hassle it takes to knot it, the noose-like feeling around the neck, the total non-functionality of it, the snappy-looking stains it attracts when, say, you lean over a buffet table and smartly rake it through the crab dip.
So after reading a recent fashion article in The Sun in which local men's clothier Edward Hyatt discussed "tie-less options," I decided to pay him a visit.
Hyatt and his brother Harvey met me at their store at The Mall in Columbia, one of three upscale stores they own in the area.
They've been in the men's clothing business since 1971, and when I immediately launched into an overheated rant about how stupid ties are, they nodded their heads sympathetically, in the manner of $200-an-hour therapists.
Well, they said, you're not alone.
"I'd say more than 50 percent of men want to go without a tie these days," Harvey Hyatt said.
"I consider ties like jewelry," Ed Hyatt said. "Jewelry serves no function, either. It's [just] an add-on that gives you some color and [style.]"
The first "tie-less option" they showed me was a mock turtleneck shirt, a sharp-looking cranberry Italian cotton-blend that went for $44.90.
It struck me as the type of shirt you'd see Harrison Ford wearing under a light suit to a movie premiere, his beady little eyes darting from side to side as he fended off the paparazzi and pretended to be listening to his girlfriend, Calista Flockhart. (That is, if they're still going out. They've been together for a couple months now, so that relationship could be going up like the Hindenberg by now.)
The second tie-less option they showed me was a mango-colored, short-sleeve, crew-neck silk T-shirt, paired with a charcoal sports coat.
It, too, looked terrific and also cost $44.90. I really like this whole suit-and-T-shirt look, except for one thing: It's all the rage now with pro athletes, who generally have even less fashion sense than, say, newspapermen.
In fact, every time you see one of the Ravens out on the town - or ducking into court, as the case may be - they're wearing one of these babies under a suit or sports coat.
It was at this point that Harvey Hyatt appeared with tie-less option No. 3, a gleaming white, long-sleeve shirt with a banded collar, which went for $29.99 and naturally made me recoil in horror.
Look, to me, not since the polyester leisure suit of the '70s have we seen a fashion atrocity like the banded collar.
For some reason, country recording artists really seem to go for the suit-and-banded-collar look. Maybe that's why every guy I see with a banded collar automatically looks like Billy Ray Cyrus, minus the mullet haircut.
Fortunately, Ed Hyatt assured me that the banded collar was even now fading into fashion oblivion.
"It's like your grandfather's shirt," Harvey Hyatt added to make a point.
For an instant, I closed my eyes and tried to picture my grandfather with a banded collar and a mullet haircut, standing proudly next to his just-polished Studebaker.
Fortunately, I couldn't, maybe because the old guy died many years ago, before he could ever have been subjected to such horror.
Harvey Hyatt said that, aside from high school kids who wear them with tuxes to the prom, not many customers ask for shirts with banded collars anymore, which we all agreed was a good thing.
The last option the Hyatts suggested for tie-haters was this: Wear a suit and dressy shirt without a tie.
With that, Ed Hyatt took me over to a table piled high with rich-looking shirts and showed me something called a Saturday night polo from Tommy Bahama.
Oh, man, it was sharp-looking: pale yellow with a cream-yellow collar, just the thing to wear under the nice suede sports coat Harvey Hyatt retrieved.
But the polo went for $100.
Which is when I started thinking: Y'know, maybe I was a little hasty about that whole banded-collar thing.