Button up your overcoat . . . make that overcoats

Now's a good time for men to go browsing through their favorite retailer's outerwear department -- if only to learn whether or not what you own is up-to-date. Likely finds: a variety of weights and lengths, underscoring the stylish yet practical merits of developing an outerwear wardrobe.

Generally speaking, a man needs a raincoat for protection from wet weather, a mid-weight coat for days that are cold but not outrageously so, and a heavy coat for days when the temperature takes a nose-dive.


Soft blue, rich brown and cream are style-conscious alternatives to the tried-and-true black, taupe and tan. Leather, wool, imitation fur and technologically advanced synthetics -- called micro-fibers -- are the mainstay fabrics.

But the biggest changes evident in fashion outerwear are in the shapes.


Three-quarter-length coats -- intended to be worn over business attire -- are already all the radically chic rage among Europe's retrophiles. Meanwhile, three-quarter-lengths -- also dubbed "car coats" or "barn coats" -- are gaining ground in America's casual outerwear market. These quilted, tweedy, leather or wool coats are usually boxy, with enough room to accommodate several layers underneath and still keep men unencumbered as they go about outdoors activities.

To heighten the fashion quotient for the casual three-quarter-length coats, some designers make them in plush faux fur and add hoods to the opulent and somewhat oversized garments.

Full-length coats feature epaulets on broadened shoulders, silver-dollar-sized metal buttons and big-buckled belts to lend a military air. And to complement the rugged, earthy sensibilities in most menswear collections this season, designers are showing lots of raglan-sleeved, single-breasted overcoats with simple collars cut from bulky, coarse fabrics. The season's full-length coats also are cut fuller than in years past, another nod toward layered dressing.

Rainwear styling follows the same course that heavier outerwear now runs: roomier silhouettes; military or minimalist styling; three-quarter and full-length cuts.

The full-length leather coat is creeping back -- in sumptuous brown as well as traditional black. And three-quarter-length leathers are being bulked up with leather-on-leather trimming and thick layers of shearling linings. As for the finish of the hides, men are presented with two extremes: buttery smooth or intensely distressed. Thankfully, hardware -- zippers, clasps and snaps -- is kept to a tasteful minimum.

To heighten the versatility of an outerwear wardrobe -- while taking advantage of the fabric finishes and silhouettes available -- a man would do well with three coats: a flat wool or raincoat, a plush or nubby wool and a leather or suede piece, making sure at least one is three-quarter-length.