Coats are a big step - buyer, be careful!


A coat mistake is serious business.

A bad choice of blouse can be ignored or covered up with a jacket or sweater, but there's no hiding a wrong coat.

So think it over, over lunch or dinner, before you make the final decision and investment. Here, a checklist of reminders:

* No coat is an island. Before you're swept away by romantic new designs, think about the rest of your wardrobe. The fashion-followers who can afford to change silhouettes with each season don't have to worry; they've already ditched their boxy blazers and shoulder pads in favor of a leaner line.

The rest of us, who are still holding on to some old favorites, should remember that many of the oldies-but-goodies will not fit under a fit-and-flare shape.

Even the fashionettes will have some problems. The beauty of the greatcoats is in the detail of lavish cuffs and collars -- which do not allow room for the lavish cuffs and collars that are the feature of so many jackets and shirts. It's a major fashion dilemma: How many cuffs is too many?

* Ease can be annoying. Some of the most dramatic new designs are cut as generously as a bathrobe and look --ing and urbane when they step out along the boulevards. Women who spend many miles and hours in a car may want less in a coat. Factor in a seat belt (you always buckle up, don't you?), gear shifts and all that fabric volume, and you could feel smothered. Add the number of times a hem or tie-belt is caught in the car door and you suffer more entrapment.

But if your heart is set on a big, generous coat, think about moving to a smaller size. The style will hold, but the coat won't overpower.

* Hems shouldn't hurt you. The most flattering coat length for fall hovers just above the ankle. If that's the length you settle on, take the coat out for a careful stair trial. If you have also invested in new boots,wear those. One inch, more or less, in the heel or the coat may help prevent a bad spill on curb or doorstep.

If your heel tends to snag the hem consistently, try pinning the coat up an inch or two and try again. A little less hem is much more attractive than a cast.

* Watch your weight. A heavy coat hangs well, but wears tired. This is not usually a problem with high-end designer labels where lighter wools and luxury fibers figure in the cost. Lower-priced longer, bigger coats in heavy wool can add up to uncomfortable pounds. Pick the coat up in one hand at arm's length. If that taxes your muscles, keep looking.

* Youth doesn't know all. Budding career women may be stepping upscale in quality and buying their first dress/career coat this season. They pay attention to labels, but don't always understand that the tailor's tacks holding pleats, vents or pockets together are there to keep the fabric in place during shipping. Do remind them gently that they forgot to snip the threads.

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