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President Clinton heads to the Rose Garden on Aug. 6. (Reuters)

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In Washington, There's No Present Like the Tie

By Roxanne Roberts
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 20, 1998; Page B1

First it was The Dress. Now the Lewinsky affair has coughed up another controversial bit of clothing for inspection, speculation and just maybe presidential prevarication: The Tie.

The cravat in question is a mercifully spotless silk accessory from Zegna, one of six ties Monica Lewinsky testified she gave to President Clinton during their inappropriate relationship. It was a gift for Clinton's 50th birthday in 1996 and, according to the New York Times, came with this message from the love-struck intern: "When I see you wearing this tie I'll know that I am close to your heart."

Clinton sported its bold gold and navy pattern on the day he left for China last month and during a televised ceremony at the White House on Aug. 6, which happened to be the very day Lewinsky testified before the grand jury.

That got the attention of Ken Starr's sharp-eyed prosecutors, who raised the issue during their interrogation of the president on Monday afternoon. Two White House officials confirmed to the Associated Press yesterday that prosecutors asked Clinton if he was trying to send Lewinsky a signal by wearing it – a sartorial decision that might go beyond a mere crime of fashion and fall within Starr's definition of obstruction of justice.

One adviser said the president laughed at the question and then "expressed some bafflement." The president reportedly testified that it was possible Lewinsky had given him the tie but he was not trying to communicate anything to her with his choice of neckwear.

Was he or wasn't he? That's the question that tied up Washington yesterday.

WMAL radio said yes and promptly launched a tie drive for the president so he would no longer have to rely on the former intern for his wardrobe. A bored city had found yet another way to indulge its passion for psychosexual debate.

Clinton has a hard-won reputation as a Don Juan, which means it is possible that he wore the tie as a secret symbol of his enduring passion for Lewinsky. But it is equally possible that he behaved like Bubba: promptly forgot who gave it to him, placed no special significance on it, and wore it because it was the first one he laid hands on.

There are those, both men and women, who swear that men remember the important details about every tie in their closet. Neckties are the most personality-driven part of a man's wardrobe and the most banal, the stereotype for the most boring gift possible. But even men with bad taste have definite ideas about their ties, and the Beau Brummels of the world are very picky about what they put around their necks.

Which is why, they contend, men remember ties. Especially the ones that come from wives and kids. And especially, especially a tie from a lover. Unforgettable.

The knights of Arthurian times wore a lady's "favor" – usually a scarf tied on their armor – as a secret or not-so-secret signal that they were fighting in her honor. Or something like that. Yes, they say. Clinton knew exactly what he was doing when he put on that tie. He's lied about other aspects of the relationship, so who knows?

Then there were those, perhaps mostly women, who said: No. No. No. God, no.

This argument was extracted from the "Men Are Clueless" file. Clinton, it was argued, being of the male persuasion, most likely forgot the tie was a gift from Lewinsky. Jeez, that was two years ago! Men don't remember emotionally significant gestures like that. They reach into the closet and grab.

Women, by contrast, get all emotional about clothes, lovingly preserving old (albeit laundered) prom dresses, and wedding gowns from long-gone-and-good-riddance marriages. They know, in a way that few men do, that clothing transcends mere fabric and is a statement.

Few in England have forgotten the black chiffon cocktail dress Princess Diana wore to the Serpentine Gallery on the night Prince Charles admitted his adultery to a national television audience. The message to her estranged husband was loud and clear and cannot be printed in a family newspaper, even today.

But the message in Clinton's tie? Hard to say.

He's a guy. But then again, Lewinsky told friends the president wore one of her ties while delivering his State of the Union address. And now Internet gossip Matt Drudge is claiming that the tie Clinton wore in his address to the nation Monday night was also from the Monica collection.

A coincidence? Or knot?


© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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