JACKETS FOR ALL OCCASIONS A great investment for the fall, they are now more refined and highly versatile


Fashion flirted with hemlines, toyed with dresses and re-established pants as major players of the season. But the strongest message from the fall shows in Paris, London, New York and Milan, Italy, was an affirmation of the jacket as the heavy hitter in the current fashion scene.

Sure, there are changes. Shoulder pads are no longer as formidable as the ones football players wear. Jackets are not so oversized that they could accommodate a couple of sweaters and a wool shirt under

neath. Some have pronounced curves, as waistlines nip snugly above jutting or gently flared peplums.

Should a woman plan only one major purchase for fall, a new jacket is a sensible choice for its versatility alone. The most conservative way to wear it is with a matching skirt. Over jump suits or snug pants in, say, stretch velvet, it acquires a racy flavor. Since long jackets, ending at fingertip level, are prominent, they can also be paired with regular trousers.

Jackets are by no means exclusively daytime fare. Dressed up with sequins, paillettes and metallic embroideries, they are part of evening outfits as diverse as a short lace or panne velvet dress or a long skinny jersey skirt.

Jackets have a chameleon quality, suggesting coats when they accompany a dress the same length or replace one. Calvin Klein cuts some jackets a smidgen longer and calls the result a jacket dress. Unlike many dual-purpose styles, it works, conjuring memories of yesterday's serviceable coat dress, but looking much sharper.

In Milan, Giorgio Armani's jackets flowed lightly over the body in a slender, unconstructed line and were shown with narrow pants, short skirts or occasionally shorts.

Jean Muir's best jackets in London were often in smooth leather or suede and their soft tailoring was enhanced by curved collars, lapels and edges.

The jacket story in Paris included snugly fitted styles by Claude Montana that were equipped with prominent zippers, and shapely jackets by Karl Lagerfeld, both for his own collection and for Chanel. Christian Lacroix's jackets, with their big jeweled buttons, sequined patches and metallic threads, have a different kind of flash. Yves Saint Laurent was one of the few designers who made longer hemlines palatable, especially in pleated skirts with fitted jackets.

The short, narrow skirt no longer stands alone as the sole complement to the jacket. Valentino likes skirts bell shaped and buoyed by masses of petticoats. In all his collections, including for Fendi, Mr. Lagerfeld showed denim skirts with wool jackets. Mr. Montana's asymmetrical skirt hems echoed the slant of his jacket hems. Donna Karan offered side-dipping hemlines and side-draped skirts as well as vests to go under the jackets.

There are plenty of shapes, just as there are plenty of colors and fabrics to keep the jacket on center stage for another year.

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