Fashion: Check your coat

Your new winter coat doesn't have to outlive you - so why not just buy one for fun?
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The Independent Culture
What exactly are you looking for in a coat? Is it a winter comforter to keep you warm? Is it a bold statement to make you stand out from the crowd? Or is a coat the ultimate status symbol, the one item of clothing that demands the most investment whatever your budget - and you want everybody who sees it to know it?

There was a time when buying a coat was as simple as deciding whether to choose a duffle, Crombie, Harrington or Mackintosh. The styles were traditional. No tricks, no fanciness. Just a good, old-fashioned coat. Form followed function.

In the good old days, a coat was an investment for as long as it lasted. There was no need to update it season after season, because a Crombie never dates. That's not much use to the fashion industry, however, where in-built obsolescence is the order of the day. A coat is not fashionable unless it has the life-span of a sickly gerbil.

The problem is, if a coat is only going to last a few months before being discarded on fashion's great scrapheap in the bin-bag at the back of the wardrobe, how do you decide which one to buy?

As I trample along the slushy mountains of leaves to ooh and aah over the fireworks tomorrow night, I must confess that I will be doing so in a coat I bought - horror of horrors - last year. It was in the sale and despite that, still cost more than the rest of my wardrobe put together. It is plain and grey, tailored and long, in the sort of wool that goes reassuringly smelly when it has been out in the rain. And every time I think of my credit card balance, I am reminded of the fact that I will be wearing it for many more Bonfire Nights to come. It has become something of a life sentence; the idea of a throwaway coat is suddenly quite appealing.

The best way to approach the one-season coat is to go against all the usual rules: when Tom Ford, the Gucci guru, was looking for inspiration for his spring/summer 1999 collection, he looked into his darkest nightmares. He saw Cher in the mid-Seventies and added feathers to ripped jeans, sourced gaudy, psychedelic prints and used a colour palette to make the nerve ends scream. The collection was declared a winner, but it will be short- term love affair. Likewise when choosing a coat, don't worry if it's a shade of red that you don't want to be tied to for the rest of your life. Just enjoy it while it lasts.

The coats we have photographed here range in price from pounds 70 for the Little Red Riding Hood number to pounds 270 for a shaggy, black mohair coat from Episode.

We have also included the coat of the season, the sporty, cream- coloured modern shape from Oasis that hints at a similar style by Prada's diffusion range, Miu Miu.

At pounds 99.99, it is just within the bounds of being a one winter wonder, and you can feel very pleased with yourself that you are ahead of the pack without breaking the bank.