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Published: Friday, 1/23/2004

So is argyle out or in?

In the well established world of fashion, the mavens shamed presidential candidate Wesley Clark into dumping the grey argyle sweater that helped protect him from sub-zero temperatures as he campaigned in wintry New Hampshire.

It ended up on e-Bay, where it is about to generate a small fortune for the homeless veterans' shelter in Manchester, N.H., which will get the proceeds of the eBay auction. On Thursday, with two days to go, bids had already passed $5,700.

So much fuss over one sweater virtually commands a fashion rebound for argyle. Last fall, without campaign inspiration, United Colors of Benetton featured an argyle sweater. So did Tommy Hilfiger. The critics? Not a clue.

To be sure, retro argyle design sweaters abound from the 1960s and 1980s. You can find them in any second-hand clothing store.

But designers have played constantly with themes and variations of the pattern, which originated centuries ago with the Argylls, part of the Campbell clan of Scotland.

Some bagpipers in full regalia favor argyle-patterned hose, and there's a picture around from the 1930s of the late Duke of Windsor on the golf course in his plus-fours, sporting argyle knee hose and a vest knit in a fair-isle pattern.

Antique origins do not mark the end of fashion. Platform shoes go back to the Romans. As for topless styles, Egyptian women sported wraps secured under exposed breasts.

The fashion fussies on the campaign trail considered General Clark's argyle-patterned wool sweater, borrowed from his brother-in law, a bit on the geeky side.

Argyle fashions, like daisies, are perennials. Whether of colorful or neutral hues, their patterns speak of clever color arrangement, care, order, planning, and control.

As for General Clark, if he wins the Democratic primary or the presidency, the argyle sweater could yet be his symbol. Maybe there's another in his drawer.

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