THE rules of dressing for television are not written down. They're learned on the set or location by the seat of the pants. And in Hongkong those usually come from the stars' own closet. What hosts, presenters and news people wear has more to do with common sense than corporate consensus. While Gloria Wu's fans write to her for shopping advice on earrings, Peter Rolston's major decision before his Saturday evening newscast is which tie to wear. Dressing for the camera favours men, the ATV news presenter claims. It's a matter of convenience and simplicity. ''How can you go wrong with a navy blazer,'' he said, referring to his uniform in the days when his wardrobe was supplied ''from the waist up'' by the show's sponsor. ''Below the desk, it's blue jeans, even moon boots.'' Stripes and polka dots are a no-no because through the camera lens, they tend to ''move''. It has a visual effect similar to a blurry photo finish at Sha Tin and makes the viewers go nearly cross-eyed. He stays clear of white shirts (they glare), sticks with light pink or blue. ''But I get loopy with ties.'' Canadian-born Shelley Fines learned the hard way about the trickiness of the local colour key used by studios. A purple dress ''turned me into a pair of talking hands and a moving mouth'', recalls Fines, now a radio news announcer. ''You just disappear like Star Trek.'' A reporter on location has it a bit easier than an anchor. ''The cameras (used on location) are different from the one in the studio,'' says Peri Chow. ''The studio cameras are finer, they pick up more detail and the lighting is stronger. Make-up is important. ''But on location my face is on camera about 20 seconds,'' says the TVB news reporter. ''When you're an anchor, the camera is on you longer.'' Her guideline is neatness and an uncluttered look. ''When I'm off to Beijing on a last-minute assignment, there's no time or room to pack 10 outfits.'' Looking like you've been up for two days is unavoidable. ''You look as tired as you feel. The camera can't hide that.'' When Julie Mapleston leaves for work, the reporter/presenter for ATV mentally goes through a probable day, then dresses accordingly. A fall-back is a few jackets she keeps at work and wearing dark trousers and boots or comfortable shoes. High heels and stockings work for press conferences but not for covering a shoot-out in Mongkok. ''In ski-pants and boots, I can climb about. Sometimes, being well-dressed is a hindrance. ''If you look immaculately well-groomed on location, some viewers think you spend all your time in the car, getting your hair and make-up right,'' explains the Australian. Unlike the national networks in United States, such as CBS or NBC, which provide designer clothing for on-camera newscasters or presenters, most anchors, presenters and reporters here buy their own clothes or receive a tiny allowance. When a show is sponsored by a clothing store, a wardrobe is provided. ''News reading dominates what I buy,'' continues Mapleston, of the strong colours and conservative styles she selects. For credibility, it is important how you look. Part of the message is how you're dressed.'' Glamour has little to do with the behind-the-scenes reality, according to Deborah Moore. ''For years I hosted a show in my stocking feet, standing on sandbags. My co-host was six feet tall. And I am 5ft 2'. '' Having a wardrobe mistress and clothes supplied isn't always a panacea either. Moore recalls being poured into ill-fitting clothes and doing one show in a halter-style dress better suited for the beach. ''Dreadful'' is how she described her image when she got a new perm. ''It took months for my hair to grow out. Lots of tight curls made me look like a Chinese version of Goldilocks. Long straight hair is more flattering.'' The label ''clothes horse'' cannot be applied to movie critic Paul Fonoroff. ''I've got lousy taste and old clothes besides, even a pair of bell-bottom pants from the 70s.'' But dressing to fit the show's image required a honeymoon period until the producer and Fonoroff got it right. ''I hate ties and that's what they dressed me in. It didn't work. Going to the movies is fun and casual, not a suit and tie thing.'' What the viewers see, his ''elegant yuppie'' look, is supplied by a sponsor. One time-saving measure he adopted is trimming his own beard. ''I don't have to worry about hair.'' Gloria Wu also took grooming into her own hands. She got tired of the industrial-strength make-up and the way it made her face break-out. She imports hers and puts it on at home in front of her professional make-up table and lights. ''The studio make-up artists get used of doing one type of face. And they didn't know what to do with mine. My nose is Chinese but not my high cheek-bones.'' Wearing the thick, oily, orange-toned pan-stick make-up is similar to wearing butter. ''If you shoot outside, it collects soot. You look like one big black smudge.'' When Shelley Fines left television for radio, she splurged. She got her hair permed and bought glittery sweaters. ''To be taken seriously on television, you have to look business-like. But, in Hongkong, you can get away with fancier clothes, even dangling earrings and heavier make-up. They make less of a distinction between news and drama, you're a star, not a newsreader.'' Projecting image is Kathy Travis' business. As managing director of Artistree HK Ltd, she creates television commercials. Among her clients is Joyce Boutiques. ''It's time for the local television stations to get competitive,'' says Travis. ''Let's be honest. We all look at television and make a judgement. ''Hongkong presenters come off as the poor conservative cousins to their counterparts elsewhere. The major American networks like CBS and NBC supply 100 per cent of the wardrobe. They're wearing Donna Karan, Armani, Krizia. ''You can add personality, humour and style and still maintain credibility. In fact, good taste and style add credibility. But the networks don't want to spend the money.''