The weather outside may not be frightful just yet, but stores around the capital city are already beginning to display their fall and winter coats. So if you're seeking outerwear that will keep you feeling warm and looking cool the next few months, there's no time like the present to start perusing the retail racks.
Because Illinois winters have become somewhat milder in the past few years, many women are choosing wool blend jackets that will double as coats, says Regina Santarelli, owner of Bella Boutique in Springfield.
"We're really moving out of parka weather here in central Illinois, so you often don't want to put on a frumpy coat," she says.
"The trend is to wear a jacket layered with a tunic under it. Of course, on those few days when it is really freezing, you'll have to wear something heavier. Capes have also always done well in my store."
To be stylish today, you'll do well to look backward several decades.
"What you see now is the influence of the '60s - kind of the Jackie O look," Santarelli says. "On the trendier side, we're also seeing double-breasted Sergeant Pepper coats."
Color is important, too. This season Santarelli predicts women will go for rich shades such as grape or berry - along with the standard blacks and grays.
Cynthia Dunham, vice president for outerwear for Burlington Coat Factory, adds that a classic black coat never goes out of style.
"Black is always number one," she says. "Purples, fuchsia, gray and plaids are always a good choice."
Jana O'Leary, a spokeswoman for Target, agrees that plaids and colors are making a comeback.
"Plaid outerwear is a key look for fall, such as the Converse One Star plaid peacoat," O'Leary says. "Our fall outwear collection includes classic, all-American silhouettes as well as of-the-moment trends."
Another hot look in cool-weather gear is the trench coat with a classic 1940s feel (think Ingrid Berman) complete with round shoulders and a cinched waist. There's a reason trench coats have been so popular for so long - they are a flattering look for women. Of course, men like them, too.
Men who are heading off to the office often choose a trench coat, says Marc Maslauski, owner of Jim Herron Ltd. in Springfield.
Whether you are a man or a woman, you'll probably want to wear your trench coat for a few years. That's why it makes sense to pick a darker color that Maslauski says looks "dressier" and shows fewer stains, keeping its new look longer.
Maslauski also carries Rainforest coats that come in black, brown, olive and tan, which are good choices for casual wear.
"What's nice about them is that they come with a zip-in down liner which is good for colder weather," he says. "They come in a bomber length or three-quarter length."
For evening or dressier wear, Maslauski recommends a Samyo full top coat of a wool and cashmere blend.
"These coats come in black, navy, charcoal and camel," he says.
Younger men's jackets are modernized this season with military-style flap pockets such as the Converse One Star Evertt military jacket, O'Leary adds. In general for guys in high school or college, modern coats have more details - epaulets, military influence and bib insets.
Both faux fur and faux leather are once again in style for teens and younger women, Dunham says. Leather jackets - while usually not warm enough for the coldest weather - are a versatile way to dress up jeans or dress down trousers and skirts.
Parents who are buying coats for kids should keep in mind that children grow quickly. They also feel more comfortable in a coat that allows some "wiggle room." Dunham says bubble coats and system jackets will continue to be popular with the younger set.
Finally, don't forget that accessories can make or break a winter look. Remember Michelle Obama's green J. Crew gloves that were such a hit at this year's presidential inauguration? As the first lady showed us, color gets a response, especially when accessorizing.
"Oh, we love scarves and mittens with jackets," Santarelli says. "Bright colors can really change the look of a coat."
No matter what you choose, Dunham says it's important to pick something that makes you feel good.
"I'd say that with women, a 36-inch coat is always most popular. The second-most popular is the peacoat," Dunham said. "For men, I'd say mid-thigh or peacoat. Additional coats would depend on your lifestyle."
Story published Friday, September 4, 2009 ( Volume 4, Number 5 )