All the best coats this season go to great lengths

A LONG WINTER

December 03, 1992|By Kelly Degarmo | Kelly Degarmo,Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Since "long" is the season's fashion buzzword, it goes without saying that a classic long coat is an excellent choice for cold weather this year.

Fewer garments pack more potential.

Wear a long coat with jeans and boots to football games on weekends, or with a long skirt and platform pumps to the office during the week. Layer it over a dressy suit for a Saturday afternoon wedding, and turn around and don it that night at the ballet with a short, backless dress.

"It tops off everything you're wearing," says Donna Kimmel, women's wear fashion manager for the Wool Bureau Inc., a marketing organization. "A long coat is more of an investment piece. You get more options with it."

Long, slim skirts or knit minis, menswear-inspired trousers or '40s-style dresses -- the longer coat finishes all of them with grace and style.

"It has a glamorous feel, a movie-star quality about it," says Marcia Barrett, a director of fashion presentation for Neiman Marcus stores.

Let's not forget the comfort factor, either. Long coats keep legs warmer.

"If you're only going to buy one coat, it probably makes more sense to buy a long coat," says Jill Fortney, a wardrobe and wedding consultant.

Depending on where your winter travels take you, a long coat may be essential for protection against northern elements.

If your new coat is going to look good for three to five years, look for a classic cut, neutral color and quality fabric. Fortunately, finding something with these traits shouldn't be difficult this year.

"I think most of the really great-looking coats this season are in classic shapes," Ms. Barrett says.

Choose from double- or single-breasted Chesterfields or reefers with notch collars, bathrobe/wrap styles with shawl collars and sashes around the waist, balmacaans with Peter Pan collars, swing styles and single-breasted dusters with convertible collars. (A good salesperson should be able to identify these for you.)

One main drawback to the popular bathrobe-style wrap is that it has a tendency to come unwrapped easily, but a skilled tailor can add sturdy fur hooks for less than $15. These will keep the coat closed in even the stiffest gale winds.

To ensure that the coat covers the season's new long skirts, look for a length of at least 48 to 50 inches, measuring from the shoulders. (Nothing looks tackier than a long skirt hanging beneath a too-short coat.) Allow ample room in the body for layering over a jacket or sweater. Check for a pleat or vent in back for easy walking.

Neutral colors such as camel, black, navy, charcoal and hunter green are smart choices because they rarely go out of style. Even red, which is especially flattering to gray-haired women, gets the green light.

"Red is always in style," Ms. Kimmel says. "It's a new neutral."

Off-white also looks very elegant, but isn't practical since it shows dirt easily. For those who want more color, opt for deep, subtle shades of pumpkin, mustard, eggplant, burgundy or teal. If you like the look of tweed, stick with a small pattern, as larger patterns tend to look too casual and may not cross over into evening.

Many current styles are embellished with velvet or fake fur accents and decorative brass buttons. While these exciting details may appeal to the fashion fanatic in you, ponder their practicality and longevity.

If you plan to wear the coat for casual outings, velvet trim may look out of place. Since fur comes and goes every few years, a fur collar and cuffs may not be the best long-term option, unless of course they're detachable. Buttons can be interchanged fairly easily and don't pose too much of a problem.

The best choice of fabric for lasting durability is wool, experts say, because wool is one of the most sturdy natural fibers.

Though long coats once were made only of the heaviest wools, many of today's long coats are available in lightweight wool flannels and wool gabardines.

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