By Tom Coombe Of The Morning Call
ALLENTOWN, Pa. - Christmas has fruitcake. Weddings have blenders. And Father's Day has the necktie, the boring, cliched gift no one wants.
At least that's what some people say. ''Don't buy Dad another tie this Father's Day,'' we're told by advertisers around this time every year, as they push alternatives.
Yet, about 10 million to 15 million ties are sold around the holiday, according to the Men's Dress Furnishings Association, a trade association based in New York. But is it still the No. 1 gift for Dad?
It depends on who you ask. Some say the tie is still king of the gift mountain for Father's Day, which is today. Others say it's a casualty to the rise of casual Fridays, and no longer on the shopping lists of people who want to avoid giving predictable presents.
''Everyone's trying to stay away from the tie,'' said Dominic Martin, working at the men's clothing department at J.C. Penney's at Lehigh Valley Mall. It's the gift people think of when they can't think of anything else, he said. Instead, Father's Day shoppers have gone for things such as wallets and tool sets.
''It used to be a nice business for stores. Ties were a standard gift years ago,'' said Michael McNamara, manager of the London Shop, a downtown Easton clothing store.
''Not too many people wear ties anymore,'' said Richard Evans of Easton, working the men's clothing counter at the Bon-Ton at the Palmer Park Mall. ''The main Father's Day gift now is either pajamas, belts or socks.''
That's right, socks. An unscientific poll taken last month by the online magazine Interactive Dad discovered more fathers would rather get socks and underwear than receive a tie. With 30 percent of the vote, the tie was easily the least popular gift with fathers. Another recent unscientific online poll, taken by the Web site About.com, found that of the dads who said they didn't want clothing as a gift, two of every three cited the tie as the specific gift they didn't want.
A safe gift
But as far as the gift givers go, ties — about 100 million are sold year-round — are still a hot item at some stores when Father's Day rolls around.
''We do about 20 percent of sales this time of year,'' said Morgan Dunn, chief executive officer at the Internet retailer Neckties.com. Sales dropped off in the 1990s, as casual wear became more common, but now have begun to pick back up.
''It's always been a safe gift,'' said Tony Strillacci, owner of Frantoni Fashions in Washington, N.J.
'' 'Well, he can always use a tie,' '' he said, explaining the rationale of Father's Day shoppers. ''It's the path of least resistance.''
Strillacci opened the business in 1972, a year after the third Sunday in June was made the permanent day to celebrate Father's Day. He started noticing the drop-off in tie purchases about 10 years ago, and said there are a few factors at work: fewer men wear ties, people shop more often and there are more products out there.
''There's so much more varied interests today, whether it's electronics or gift cards,'' said Strillacci, who noted that even he has received ties on Father's Day, despite owning a clothing store.
Closing the holiday spending gap
Retailers are taking advantage of those varied interests this year. According to the Associated Press, chains such as Sears and Home Depot have expanded their Father's Day advertising in order to close the gap between dad's day and mom's day. A National Retail Federation survey found gifts for Mother's Day outpacing gifts for dad, $13.8 billion to $9 billion.
The Palmer Park Mall Boscov's was promoting Father's Day last week. Even the signs hung around the store (''It's just what dad wants'') showed a blue and orange line drawing of a shirt and tie, even as they called attention to cologne and wallets. There were even ties made of fudge in the candy department.
''Every Father's Day becomes a big tie season,'' said Jeff Moser, who sells men's clothing at the store. Other local stores, including Macy's and the Men's Warehouse, also said ties remain a popular Father's Day gift.
Pam Fetterhoff of Lehigh Township came to Boscov's with her children Thursday afternoon to do some Father's Day shopping, but neck wear was not on the agenda.
''I don't bother with the tie thing,'' she said, browsing through stacks of dress shirts. Her husband is a minister and already has plenty of ties. ''He has to wear stuff like this.''
Donna Swope of Martins Creek bought her husband a shirt and tie, a popular Father's Day combination. He works as a butcher, and doesn't wear a tie to work, but needed something for his nephew's wedding.
''He actually trusts my judgment,'' she said before checking out.
Despite it being, as Moser had put it, a big tie season, the store section was relatively quiet. A little girl skipped by with her mother, and craned her neck toward a table of colorful Jerry Garcia ties.
''How 'bout a tie?'' she asked.
''Daddy doesn't wear ties,'' her mother replied, as they turned the corner and headed toward the electronics section.