The news, men, from your fashion front is disturbing. Ties are getting narrower again, and the word is that, come autumn, anyone caught walking (or running or skipping) around in a four-incher will be banished by the cognescenti.

But before you leap off a bridge, here's a secret. Fashion authorities also are expecting a "boomlet" in the sale of bow ties (for both men and women), up from their usual 2 to 3 percent of total sales to about 6 or 7 percent.

"It's all part of a return to an academic flavor, and the bow fits in," says Norman Karr, executive director of the Men's Fashion Association.

If you'd stayed with a bow all along, of course, you wouldn't have a worry, and there you'd be, sticking your neck out, with Winston Churchill, Salvador Dali, Walter Pidgeon, Abraham Lincoln, Fred Astaire, Irving Levine, Archibald Cox, Vladimir Horowitz, Gene Shalit and Clyde's bartenders. People who refuse to be swayed by the fickle winds of change.

The tie industry, which already does about $700 million annually, is expecting a 15 to 20 percent increase in sales this year. which means they plan to sell something like 168 million ties instead of a paltry 140 million.

There's a certain amount of collusion, of course, going on here. Along with the narrower ties are coming narrower lapels and shirt collars, a return of the "ivy league" or "Northeast university look."

Uh. huh. Planned obsolescence. You. (Unless you've saved a complete wardrobe from the '50s.)

But back to the bow-tie purists, the men who wear them regardless of what is labeled "in" or "out" of fashion.

"He's the type of customer we have always had, the people who do not go with the fads," said Lee Avery, assistant manager of Brooks Brothers in Washington. He's noticed, he said, that more people are asking for bow ties these days. (They should, for $6.50 you can get an all-silk, while four-in-hands start at $8 and that's not for silk.)

"First off, anyone thinking about joining our club," said one 20-year member, "has to be tough. We bowtie people take a helluva beating out there."

"My impression," said Gerald Anderson, executive director of New York's Neckwear Association of America, "is that the bow-tie wearer operates politely within the system, but he's nevertheless a maverick. A total eccentric would probably wear a sweatshirt to the office."

Anderson, who is 32 and knows a great deal about what people put around necks, volunteered the news that bow ties originated in France during the time of Louis XIV. It seems that the Sun King's Croatian bodyguards wore something resembling a cravat (forerunner of the bow tie) as a talisman during battle. They thought the ties protected them from bodily harm. The word "cravat" is actually, Anderson said, a corruption of the word "Croat."

Bow-tie wearers, a few telephone calls confirmed, are hardly a shy lot: they know their ranks (other bow-tie wearers); they are committed, and they have a lot to say, once they get going, about that hunk of fabric perched on their Adam's apple.

That is, except for Harvard professor and temporary -- before Nixon's firing -- Watergate prosecutor Archibald. Cox. He said most civilly, "I don't see any reason to appear in print on the subject of bow ties. . . forgive me."


"Today" show critic Gene Shalit, after a second or two of what might have been incredulity about the subject, took a deep breath and surged on:

"I've been a bow-tie wearer off and on all my life On in the day and off when I go to sleep. I rebelled against ties in my late teens and a brotherin-law taught me how to tie one. He was very chic and very continental.

"Anyone who wears a clip-on I scorn, ridicule and demean. Even a good headwaiter wouldn't wear a clip-on."

Shalit says he gets lots of letters from women "all over America who want their husbands to wear bow ties, but can't find them to buy." (Memo to the industry.) Some women have made bow ties and sent them on to him, which may or may not be interpreted as a kind gesture.

"I love bow ties," breathed Shalit in summation. "After a big Italian meal you have to throw away a four-in-hand. Your bow tie is still neat."

"No one who has any self-doubts would wear a bow tie," says Charles W. Robinson, deputy secretary of state in the Ford administration and now vice chairman of the New York securities firm, Blyth Eastman dillon & Company. "Only those with supreme self-confidence hold onto their bow ties keep on wearing them and let fashion catch up once in a while."

robinson, 53, has worn bow ties for about 25 years and has no intention of giving them up. Ever. Despite such pressure as that from a New York photographer who saw his picture in the paper, called him and said, "Now that you're a member of the financial community, you should get a tie that makes you look more responsible."

Washington attorney and longtime civil-rights figure Joe Rauh admits right off that he wears. . . errr. . . a clip-on.

"You're damn right. With the amount of time I've saved I've been able to work on a half-dozen civilrights cases."

Rauh said he started wearing a bow tie after World-War II -- "Maybe because I hated the army so much."

From a bartender at Clyde's (one of Georgetown's nattier restaurants) who identifies himself only as R. Brown, 25: "If you're trying to look funny -- to put on the world -- you wear a bow tie. The only time I wear a tie of any kind is at work [a blue and white do-it-yourself bow]. The only thing I can say about bow ties is that they don't get in the gravy."

And finally from psychologist Ernest dichter, 70, whose New york behavioral science firm specializes in human motivation. (Among clients are Time-Life Books and Procter and Gamble.)

"The bow tie is teasing, it's sexually provocative, a challenge. The bow-tie wearer is saying. 'Don't touch me,' and at the same time 'Okay, try, untie my bow tie and see what happens.'"