If this is your year for a coat-buying expedition, say mush and go.
The hot coat look now is borrowed from arctic explorers and glacier climbers. Call it a parka, anorak or storm coat. It has to say warm, tough and trendy.
The familiar storm coat has been pumped up a few degrees, sort of an L. L. Bean-designs-for-Barbie style -- a younger and more energetic point of view. That means more color, a harder, slicker finish and exaggerated details. The hottest cold coats come in emergency squad yellow, traffic cone orange, neons, or sparkly fabrics -- sure to be spotted by a rescue team or fashion watchers.
What separates fashion parkas from function parkas has more to do with attitude than temperature. Stylists show them over bodysuits, evening gowns and thigh-baring minis. Ouch. Real women would wear them with clothes.
On the more fanciful runways, some models have looked like lost but chic Sherpa guides in coats cut in leathers, luxury silks and high-tech fabrications with lots of fluffy trim on hoods, cuffs, heads and even leggings. That high-Himalayan look may be way over the top for women who just want to stay snug while the car warms up, but the key elements should be considered.
Arctic adventurers had it right -- coats should allow movement and adjust to seal out drafts. The furry frame around the face traps warm breath and keeps eyelashes from frosting up, and it's so much prettier and less scary than a ski mask, although some designers tried those, too.
There can be buttons, of course, but zippers, toggles or hook and loop fasteners are a newer way to fasten.
"Parkas are everywhere, from lower price points in the coat department to designer boutiques," says Bonnie Perrin, regional fashion director for Saks Fifth Avenue. "We have them in every shade from basic black to hot pink, but the newest shade is a champagne, pale with an iridescent twinkle of pearlization," she says. Donna Karan's luxurious down-filled version at $1,200 is that color.
Lower down the price slope, such old-guard outfitters as Eddie lTC Bauer and L. L. Bean continue the weather wear tradition. At L. L. Bean, champagne pales to winter white, and its catalog has a parka in a sheeny microfiber shell with a choice of down or Thinsulate lining in short or long versions. They're priced below $200 and are tested to work in below-zero temps.
At the more rugged level is surplus style and Arthur Viente, general merchandise manager for Sunny's Surplus, states it simply. "Our business is built on utilitarian outerwear, which has always been a strong seller," he says.
You mention that shiny Donna Karan parka and he brings trends right down to earth. "We're getting in a silvery gray parka from Alpha Industries, based on a military-issue design for cold work and windy flight decks at $129," he says.
Who wears it?
"Young women buy it in the short version, which was designed for personnel who need to carry gun holsters."
Women may be looking at a different sort of protection as fall chill revives memories of last winter's ice, and that may be one of the reasons storm coats are coming on so strong.
So many women lived out last winter in heavy-duty gear and found that they never really missed their dressy coats.
This year, it is not only smart but fashionable to toss a parka over a business suit or evening dress.
"Even with the wide range of color choice, parkas come in solid colors so they are very easy to accessorize," says Ms. Perrin, "and so many of them come with fuzzy trims and linings so that you get the season's top fashion hits in one article of clothing. It's all about the ski look for the city."
Although any parka will do in a storm, the fashion labels don't leave a look to chance. "Escada makes a parka in matching colorways to go over suited sets," says Heather Femia, regional fashion director for Nordstrom, "and St. John has an evening parka in black satin lined with gold."
Storm style, however, is still to be considered a special item in a woman's wardrobe. "For their second or third coat, women may want to go for the excitement of a shorter length and color," says Ms. Femia, "but for a big career investment, a coat that can carry through many occasions and seasons, classic is still the right way to shop."
She cites the long and easy coats in luxurious fabrics that continue to be done by top lines such as Prada, Gucci and Ralph Lauren. "Classic is not a dirty word," says Ms. Femia.
Coat styles are all over the place at Burlington Coat Factory. Ellen Rosenthal, a senior coat buyer, says she goes with experience. "If we see a look gaining momentum, we go into it a little heavier. There's no history of success with sparkle fabrics yet, but we may change our minds before the holiday season really hits," she says.
November, December and January, the strongest selling months for outerwear, will tell.
"So far, classic single-breasted tailored balmacans, fake furs and anything leather are doing very well," she says. The short 7/8 and 3/4 coats seen in signature collections may look terrific on the runways, but in real life the look is not for everyone."
All coats considered
* Trim: There's lots of velvet for the romantics, at collar and cuffs, with the extra definition of soutache braid, perhaps. Fake fur is everywhere and the real fashion followers will leave no edge unfluffed.
* Texture: There's a formula. Shiny, smooth and fake such as nylon, patent and vinyl for short coats. Luxurious and deep such as mohair, melton, cashmere, camel hair for long coats.
* Skins: Shearling, as close to real fur as is now acceptable, is the status cover-up in all natural and neutral colors and even dyed to brights. It looks newest when it's a little rough around the edges. Leather, however, is over its distressed period and the newest has a high-gloss polish. Black is still hot, but so are browns and hot primary colors.
* Shapes: The greatcoat, long and sweeping, is still making a powerful statement, in single-breasted menswear cuts, double-breasted tailoring or soft wrap styles. The buttoned-up short navy pea-coat has been revived, at best in its original nautical dark blue or black.
* Length: Every length goes. Remember, however, that in a season when short dominates, nothing is more effective in calling attention to a leggy mini than a long, sweeping coat topping it off.
ON THE COVER
Styling by Suzin Boddiford with assistance by Maddy McCoy
Hair and makeup by Jill Turnbull for Etches Salon
Model Chelsea from Nova Models
Photographed at AAA Emergency Ice House courtesy of John McPherson Jr.
Yellow parka, $158; pants, $38; bodysuit, $58, all from The Limited. Boots, $110, from Joanna Gray of London
Hooded coat, $99.90; gloves, $12.95, both from Burlington Coat Factory