Right Said Fred were too sexy for their shirts, but now it seems Britain's youths are too sexy for their coats. This is the view of senior fashion critics who have noted that, despite temperatures plummeting across the country last week, young men and women are still wearing summer clothes.
Martin Raymond, senior lecturer at the London College of Fashion, said it is all down to sex: "Young people are increasingly dressing for sex, and it just doesn't look sexy if you walk around wrapped up in loads of thick clothes. That's OK if you spend your weekends pottering in the country, but it's no use if you're young and cosmopolitan."
The no-coat trend is so prevalent in London that Raymond claimed it is now referred to as "the Soho pinched look", so-called because "people are so cold they start involuntarily sucking in their cheeks".
The continuing boom in piercing and tattooing is also ruining big-coat sales: "If you've gone through terrible pain to get your bellybutton pierced, or a tattoo, you don't want to cover it up. So kids are wearing outfits in the street, even when it's freezing, that are really only suitable for hot nightclubs. Anyway that's what fashion is all about - suffering," added Raymond.
Rosemary Harden, keeper of the collections at the Museum of Costume in Bath, believes that air-conditioning is to blame for the overcoat's demise. "We now live in centrally-heated houses, shops are all heated, cars are warm, and our offices are temperature controlled - there's just no need to buy a big thick coat. You want something much lighter." Harden also thinks that fabric technology is undermining the overcoat. "Not so long ago, the only fabrics that would keep you really warm were very thick wool or fur, but now you can stay warm in many cottons."
Leading the way in the flimsy-but-cosy stakes are Neoprene, that lets sweat escape but traps in heat, and the new nylons, which supposedly do not cause your body to perspire.
During the past two years, the resurgence of consumer confidence has helped high-street fashion sales make a strong recovery, but the figures for coats remain at best static. Data from market researchers TMS also proves that it is men who are braving the elements without a coat. Women bought 2.84 million coats in 1995, but last year sales fell back to 2.68 million. In the year ending August 1996, men spent about pounds 77.3m - a fall of nearly pounds 4m since 1995 - on 1.10 million coats. This means on average men buy a new coat once every 22 years: in contrast they buy a new jacket every two-and-a-half years.
Peter LeFevre, spokesman for the International Wool Secretariat, which promotes woollen textiles, said that people still want woollen coats, but he agreed that traditional overcoats have been slow sellers. "The tendency is towards more layering, wearing lots of softer items, and people are buying shorter coats." He said sales of woollen textiles have remained buoyant because mills have created high-performance, light cloths.
The future looks uncertain: at this year's fabric fairs (selling fabrics for winter 1997/98) coat-weight cloths enjoyed a small revival, but the move towards "teleworking", where employees are linked to offices by computer and never have to leave their homes, is expected to further undermine the market for the overcoats that used to come out with the first winds of winter.
Too hot, page 4, Real Life