Coats hang around,so shop wisely!

COLD SNAP

September 26, 1990|By Robin Givhan | Robin Givhan,Knight-Ridder Newspapers

OF ALL of the purchases a man might make for fall, a coat is the one most likely to halt him in his tracks. The coat-buying experience makes a man stop, ponder, check his wallet, shake his head in disbelief and hope this winter will be the mildest one yet.

So, in the great quest for a new winter coat, there is no room for mistakes. Bad overcoats don't go away quickly. It takes weeks before the checkbook recovers, months before the new trench gets comfortable with the old wardrobe and years before outerwear mistakes land on the clothing give-away pile.

A bad coat sticks around to remind a once-proud owner of his lack of fashion foresight. It lingers in the closet, a memento of money spent for minimal satisfaction. So, gentlemen, choose wisely. Even the most fashion-obsessed men should get a little conservative when faced with the task of selecting a coat on which they'll blow hundreds of dollars.

That wide-wale corduroy coat may have a certain flair on the runway or in that sexy advertisement, but imagine it on your back as you stroll into the office. Corduroy may be the hot fabric this fall, but and we know this is near fashion heresy think long-term. How will you feel about an ecru corduroy overcoat next winter? Wool and cashmere are never passe.

The cautious shopper will steer clear of "GQ today/bargain basement tomorrow" overcoats and trenches, but also will remember that a little restraint can go a long way. Camel-hair coats are nice, but they're not much fun. And, as tasteful as a khaki trench coat may be, it's hard to get excited over a style that hasn't changed much since its creation during World War I.

This fall, the news in dress coats comes via color and shape. The standard double-breasted overcoat is as popular as ever, but has lost the linebacker shoulders. Just as the fit in suits and sportcoats has gotten looser and the shapes more natural, so have coats become big, swingy and relaxed.

One of the most popular styles for fall, from designers such as Bill Robinson, is the balmacaan overcoat. The style, named after an estate near Inverness, Scotland, was originally made of rough wools and tweeds. Now, the fabrics have softened cashmeres and gabardines are common but the shape is all traditional. The raglan sleeves, small collar and loose fit make it perfect for the current emphasis on comfort and shape.

Coats are best described as elegant, with a -- of old world charm. Loose doesn't imply oversized. Since shoulder pads have become smaller, topcoats follow the shape of a man's shoulders. There should be a gentle slope at the shoulder, but men shouldn't look like boys wrapped in their fathers' Sunday bests.

Men who decide to forgo the newer shapes in favor of something more tailored and traditional can use color to make their coat choice look up to date. This fall designers have been describing the color palettes as environmentally conscious. That means earth tones and spice colors are top picks. Olives and mustards are favorites, along with shades of red including cranberry, burgundy and russet. But, when selecting colors, think deep and rich. When searching for mustard, think dijon, not French's yellow. The colors should be soothing and easy on the eye, never glaring.

A winter coat is an investment. It has to go from the office to the cocktail party and every place in between. Have fun, have patience and shop with caution.

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