Choosing a good tie doesn't have to be an exercise in luck. The answer lies in mixing a bit of the old with the new -- combining classic patterns to appeal to Dad's safer side in slimmer, modern shapes that nudge his fashion forward.
Perennial favorites such as polka dots and stripes get a punch of freshness when sized down -- think pinhead-size for dots, or pencil width for stripes. Club ties, those featuring very small repeated icons, harken to collegiate neckwear and inject a little youth into any man's wardrobe.
Floral and even vine patterns are in for the season, and bursts of pinks and berries complement the grays popular in men's suiting right now.
The biggest trend, fashion insiders agree, involves size.
"The slimming trend is probably one of the most significant things," said Jerry Balest, the vice president of men's fashion for Macy's Merchandising Group. "Thin is in."
Macy's recently resized its men's ties; now a tie that had traditionally been 4 inches at its widest will shrink to 3 1/2 inches.
"It's all about younger attitudes," said Mr. Balest, who sees the trend from Calvin Klein to Tommy Hilfiger. "People are more fit, they are working out and they really do want to get credit for all the work and effort they're putting into taking care of themselves."
Today's ties are a major shift from the 4-inchers of decades past, when skinny neckwear was reserved for Hollywood.
"It used to be that you had to spend a lot of money on them because they were trendy and high fashion. Now everybody's jumping on the bandwagon," said Jim Moore, the creative director for GQ Magazine .
The shift comes as the icon of men's fashion -- the tie -- makes a comeback.
"There was a time 10 years ago when the tie wasn't cool," said Mr. Moore, who credits the casual Fridays mentality of the dot-com era.
When the market shifted, Mr. Moore says, men returned to a more formal office look.
"The smartest guy in the room was wearing a tie," said Mr. Moore, adding that now the right neck piece, like a well-tailored suit, conveys "you're going to close the deal perfectly."
Unlike their wider counterparts, slimmer ties add youth and flatter even larger waistlines, he says. Still, 1-inch ties aren't for everybody, either.
"If anything is too slim or too trendy and you're a 40-year-old lawyer, that's going to be the wrong buy," he said. "When you're talking about the average guy, I would go right down the middle."
That means 2 1/2 to 3 inches, said Mr. Moore, who favors the exclusive skinny ties that New York label Steven Alan offers in hip plaids and toasty browns.
When shopping, stay away from exploding pattern ties -- "It shouldn't be too loud" -- and choose designs that are woven in, not stamped on, Mr. Moore said. Expect to spend $65 to $80 on a good tie that will last.
From suits to lapels, men's fashion is slimming across the board. For an extra kick to dad's wardrobe, consider pairing a gift of a slimmer tie with one of the newer, more fitted shirts.
With their increasingly stylish designs, even a bow tie isn't out of the question, Mr. Balest says.
Southern Proper has tapped that trend.
The Atlanta-based "haberdashery for the southern gentleman" specializes in bows and neck ties covered in icons of the South: mint juleps, hound dogs and even cotton blossoms against soft pastels that work in the office or at the Kentucky Derby.
"It's supporting this whole sartorial dressing that men have been coming back to," Mr. Balest said.
"The bow tie is so classically traditional, but it looks new again."