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In short, this is the year for long coats.

Tales from the coat rack include classic thrillers - long greatcoats that swish around the ankles, much in the manner of something a gendarme might wear.Do not, however, take this to mean you'll be tied into the new longer hemlines. Designers showed great coats over every length from micro-miniskirts to heel-swishing trousers. One of the key looks was matching a long coat to a jacket or vest, skirt and tights.

And while anything goes in the color department, neutrals have been the most popular with store buyers. If you're hankering for a fuchsia coat, however, treat it as a neutral and wear it with every-thing.

Camel's hair and camel-colored coats and jackets are a popular choice. Buy it long or jacket length and wear it over everything, from tartan walking shorts to gold lame evening gowns.

Camel combines with many other colors - brown, gray, black, cream, red and even navy, not to mention plaids, patterns and eye-popping colors, the latter for a more modern touch.

Shearling is the coat choice for the truly trendy this winter, possibly one with ragged edges. An ultrawarm material, shearling is the tanned hide of a recently shorn sheep or lamb and traditionally is considered a street version of fur.

You'll find mostly brown, black and gray shearlings, and probably more vests and jackets than full-length coats.

An alternative to shearling, and packing almost as much fashion power, is the leather jacket or coat in brown, black, saddle-tan, smooth leather, suede or pigskin.

Some leather jackets are reversible this year, lined in matching fleece with antique-look toggle closures.

The parka look lives. Hanging on from the last couple of winters, quilted coats, jackets and vests have become mainstream, and the puffier, the better.

Bright, pastel, puffy silk jackets topped menswear patterned pantsuits on the runways. And bright, emergency-colored parkas gang up with sportswear and even evening clothes.

More subtly colored silks, in rich, solid tones or Oriental brocades, lend themselves to ethnic dressing but once again can double as evening wear.

Patent leathers and shiny vinyls are as high-fashion as shearling for winter but definitely more of a trend statement.

Styles don't stop at just black or white. Bright reds, pastels and metallic gold and silver can be found on the coat racks.

Reading like a Little Red Riding Hood story, the cape returns - romantic, long or short and playful. Capes are particularly effective evening dressing - or anytime you wander onto the moors. In other words, when you travel.

Cape colors tend to the earthy tones - camel, brown, gray, charcoal - all colors that would top pantsuits nicely.

Evening coats are making a comeback, undoubtedly because of the return of glamorous, barely there, slinky dresses of silk charmeuse and satin. These narrow dresses, often unlined and boasting all the panache of wearing your slip outdoors, will require substantial protection from the elements, as well as some audiences.

Consider investing in a good evening coat in basic white, cream or black, and remember you can wear it over evening pajamas as well as gowns.