Cocooned in council estate chic

It could have been lifted from Nora Batty's wardrobe in the early Sixties. Melanie Rickey can't wait to wear her new winter coat to death

When September arrives, fashion becomes serious again. The new term begins, and as children head to and from school in their brand-new, freshly ironed uniforms, it is easy to hanker after the simplicity of wearing a ready formulated outfit. That is why so many of us stick to our favourite things, those wear-them-to-death things - in effect, we develop our own uniforms.

Most of us do have an item that we will wear to death, a garment that so captures our mood and imagination that we find ourselves reaching into our wardrobes for it again and again. Last season your uniform could have been the knee-length floral skirt and twin-set, or perhaps it was loose- fit cotton trousers and a plain T-shirt that kept you cool in the 90- degree heat. Those clothes made you feel part of the summer madness, somehow connected to the collective fashion psyche.

This autumn, as usual, there is lots to choose from - key pieces to update your wardrobe, and the few strong looks that will be at the forefront. The coats pictured are one such look, although they could have been lifted from the 1961 ground-breaking film A Taste of Honey. It starred Rita Tushingham as a 16-year-old girl who becomes pregnant by a black sailor, has a flighty and neglectful mother, and a gay friend who shows her the tenderness she never received from her parent. The film was shown to my all-girl class in 1986 when we were a bunch of impressionable 14-year-olds. It did not inspire us to go rushing to the nearest Sue Ryder shop to look for "grannyish" coats. We were far too busy worrying about Jo's (Tushingham's) fate, and how to cultivate more rips in our already shredded 501s without them falling apart.

Now, however, such coats form the basis of the autumn look. They are simple, singlebreasted and to the knee. Miu Miu, the younger-sister line to Prada, designed by Miuccia Prada, has done a version (and faithfully paid homage to Tushingham's council estate chic), as has Anna Sui, who has given it more of a mod feel. Many of the directional high street stores have included the coat in their collections, such as Whistles, whose pounds 365 offering comes in classic black, siren red and taupe; and French Connection, whose versions come in mouflon fabric or window-pane check, costing pounds 135 and pounds 160 respectively. Jigsaw has a black leather coat; at pounds 390, it is allegedly selling like hotcakes.

The turquoise coat on the right is by Gucci. Although it is the sort of coat that could look at home in Nora Batty's wardrobe, alongside her wrinkly stockings, it complements the season's other key pieces perfectly. The sleeveless shift dress, slim-fit trousers, knee boots, black polo-neck, kitten-heel shoes (like the ones shown on the right by Miu Miu) and twee handbags have cropped up in most of the designer collections.

If it suits you, this could be your autumn uniform: look at it as a "seven easy pieces" approach to fashion. Whether you opt for the one with the pounds 810 price tag or a less vibrant - and less costly - version, this is the coat you will want to wear to death, the coat that, as you open your wardrobe, will beg to be worn and will, at the least, guarantee you make a lasting impression.

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