THESE DAYS, IF YOU CAN BELIEVE the hype, what the hip, stylish, with-it guy is wearing is a condom.

Not long ago, condoms were considered archaic, relics from a less liberated era, the butt of tired jokes about teen-age boys suffering stage fright in drugstores. Then came AIDS, and suddenly condoms didn't seem so anachronistic anymore. Even the surgeon general endorsed them. That endorsement made the humble rubber respectable. It also helped to stoke the engines of the Great American Craze Machine. Soon, the entire country had succumbed to condom-mania:

In Williamsville, N.Y., a Unitarian minister interrupted his sermon to distribute 125 boxes of condoms to his congregation. In Austin, Tex., students formed Protection Connection, a company that delivers condoms door-to-door, day or night. In Cambridge, Mass., students at Harvard's School of Public Health tossed more than 1,000 condoms bearing the school crest into the air during graduation ceremonies. In New York City, the city government launched a pro-condom advertising campaign that included the slogan "Don't Go Out Without Your Rubbers." And in San Francisco, Chinese restaurants gave out fortune cookies stuffed with . . . yep, you guessed it.

Condom-mania has even inspired songs. "Protect Yourself," by the Fat Boys, is a lyrical rap ode to the condom: "You need peace of mind when you do the wild thing/ So a condom, brother, don't forget to bring!" During Washington performances of the cabaret show "A Dance Against Darkness," condoms were tossed into the audience while an actor sang "Safe Sex Blues":

You better keep one in your wallet

Keep one in your car

Keep one at the office

You can file it under R.

Needless to say, America's entrepreneurs, those wonderful folks who brought you smile buttons and Garbage Pail Kids, haven't overlooked the commercial potential of this groundswell. Far from it. They've produced snazzy condom carrying cases for men and women, published "The Condom Book" and marketed a line of Christmas cards containing condoms in cheery holiday colors.

And now, inevitably, comes the Pet Rubber. It's billed as "the first condom that's user friendly" and has its own jokey instruction booklet. "Look for us soon on Late Night With David Letterman performing Stupid Pet Rubber tricks," says an accompanying press release.

They're only kidding about that, of course. Or maybe they're not. In the Year of the Condom, it's sometimes tough to tell.