Ties, according to the Neckwear Association of America, are getting wider . . . and wider . . . and wider. Some fashion experts are predicting dimensions might even reach 5 inches and look like those belly-warmers popular back in the '60s.

Well, it's doubtful Terry Dobris, who designs cravats for Format, will get that carried away. At the moment, his creations are measuring about 31/2- to 33/4-inches wide, with a few 4-inchers in the line.Dobris likes the broad look in neckwear - but within reason. Get too wide, he says, and people might mistake your tie for the kitchen curtains! Furthermore, he doesn't want to be locked into one style, one image. He doesn't want to be known forevermore as "that designer who does the big ties." Maybe his collection will be full of arrow-narrow cravats by next year. Or maybe little bows. Who knows? And, anyway, there are far more significant things to be discussed than mere dimensions.

Perhaps the most significant thing about Terry Dobris: He's sold on nostalgia. He's in love with his parents' generation. The swirling lines, crazy dots, wildly shaped leaves and dramatic colors that were popular in the '40s and earlier distinguish his design work today.

"I find my inspiration everywhere in the past," says Dobris. "Old pieces of wallpaper, upholstery fabrics, Hawaiian shirts, the art deco patterns - these are the kind of things that influence my ties. I spend a lot of time studying the motifs, and then I re-interpret them. Some of the patterns, though, you could never find on anything from the old days. They're right out of my fantasies, right out of my head!"

Dobris always loved fashion. But, in the beginning, it didn't occur to him to become a neckwear designer. He had been brought up to believe that the more conventional professions - doctor, lawyer, accountant - were the only acceptable choices. Creativity and art were fine as a hobby, but not as a way to earn a living.

He couldn't stand the thought of being a doctor or entering one of the other traditional fields. He tried politics. Then the theater. He considered East Asian studies.

"I was trying to find my way, and it was painful," says the designer. "It was a long self-discovery process."

In '81, he went to work on Seventh Avenue. He tried his hand at sportswear; then socks. There were financial set-backs, disappointments. But by 1985, he'd finally managed to launch a tie firm.

"I tried to decide what the market really needed," Dobris says. "A way for men to express themselves - that was the answer I kept coming up with whenever I thought about it. Socks were fun to do; a definite means of self- expression. But I wanted something even more obvious. And that brought me to ties. After all, the tie is very obvious. It's really the most important menswear accessory."

You've heard those stories about the young designer who does everything himself. Well, that's exactly what Dobris did - from the creative aspect right down to the selling. And, he admits, it was a struggle. Buyers were hesitant to invest in ties so radically different; the clientele was limited. But eventually, as the mood of menswear loosened up, the designs began to catch on and have more general appeal.

Dobris began adding patterns to the line. For spring, 40 are being featured. By fall, there will be 200.

"Everybody wants his own unique pattern - that's my major problem these days," says the designer. "There's no way to meet the demand. But it's fun and rewarding to see the interest. It just delights me that the climate has changed so much in the menswear market. It's an exciting place to work these days."

In the future, Dobris sees room in the market for colorful scarves. There's a history of them in menswear - and he sees no reason why it isn't time for a revival. He can also see himself doing scarves for women and, possibly, men's and women's clothing as well.

Right now, though, he's moving carefully. In the fashion industry, he says, young designers are doomed if they try to take on too much too soon. There has to be a solid financial base for every new venture.

"I try to keep my eye on everything," he says - "sales, customer needs, cash flow, production, shipping. It's a gigantic job, along with all the creative work."

Workdays often run 14 hours. And then there's the exhausting ride home on the subway.

"Fashion in New York's something you have to want to do very much or it's not worth all the effort," Dobris emphasizes. "That's what I would tell kids starting out. It's a hard business, and you just shouldn't get into it unless you're willing to make sacrifices."