Fall's big ticket is the big coat. It's the major fashion item that makes the impressive difference in the way a whole look comes off this year. Large enough to slip easily over an outsized jacket and long enough to graze the ankles, the big coat often has a shoulder span as wide as a shelf. The point of departure for the new big coat is the man's overcoat, which has itself been growing to much greater proportions in recent seasons.

The wool coat of extravagant size is also a major purchase. At an average range of from $300 to $600 for a well-designed coat of top-notch quality, such a buy takes quite a bite out of the clothes budget, and so it should be expected to have a fashion life of several seasons.

Chances are that will be the case. The double-breasted collegiate styles with low back belts and the balmacaans in salt-and-pepper tweed have the classic staying power that defies time. In these days of simple lines and careful cut there are no fanciful gewgaws or outlandish shapes of the kind that go out of date quickly.

Mannish coats head the roster of styles and come in herringbones, windowpane plaids, and country-style checks as well as that perennial preppy favorite, camel's hair. It isn't necessarily camel color, though, this time around. There's the pink Blassport camel's-hair coat, which mates wonderfully well with gray flannel pants, and there's winter white over navy, or over more winter white, to name some new alternatives.

Greatcoats of the type that used to grace the upper decks of ocean liners and are wrapped around with a sash belt are among the options. The trench, the narrow reefer, and the citified pin-striped topcoat are also well represented, not to forget the chesterfield, which in its latest incarnation by Ralph Lauren comes in gray flannel with a black velvet collar.

The masculine breed of big coats are generally conservative in color: loden, navy, dark green, or brown. But not always. Besides the Blass pink polo, there are any number of fire-engine reds, royal blues, and violets around that will brighten up the landscape. Ilie Wacs, whose instinct for style and expertise at tailoring has long made him a leading coat designer, has a gold-color melton cloth straight coat with a fly-front closing.

For those women who decide to pass up the mannish vogue and opt for something less gender-blending, there are choices like the collarless tent designed by Pauline Trigere for Abe Schraeder. Danny Noble's bright red shawl-collared greatcoat with deep triangular pockets, or his black watch plaid wrap coat, are in the free-swinging spirit of the season, too.

Worn over sweaters and pants or a long skirt, the big coat can supplement a fur coat or a down-filled wrap. But if layered over a jacket and sweater, a new coat should provide warmth enough for a blustery day.

Since it usually looks a couple of sizes too large, the big coat may not be to everyone's taste. Women who feel it's too much for them may want to investigate the selection of finger-tip and other shorter lengths. They come in belted as well as swaggering flareback styles and in an array of brilliant colors, any one of which would add dash to a winter wardrobe.

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