NEW YORK - Is putting on a wool dress coat or down ski jacket an invitation for Old Man Winter to knock at the door?
Some people seem to think so. They're the ones you see walking down the street with their shoulders drawn up and in, teeth chattering, but still wearing their flip-flops.
What are stylish people with winterphobia to do?
Get a vest.
You certainly could have found a down or fleece version in years past, but mostly at outdoor gear or sports shops. This fall vests are everywhere - from designer runways to trendier teen shops.
"What I love about the vest is that we could take it in many directions. You could wear one that's almost a shirt weight with embroidery or leather trims instead of a sweater. There are satin puffers. There are suede ones with zip-up hoods and fake fur trim," says Stephen Cirona, vice president of design at Eddie Bauer.
Cirona says he's taken Bauer's trademark down vest and slimmed down the silhouette to make it more flattering instead of giving the wearer the figure of a Michelin man. The women's version has channeling detail, almost like a corset.
"Women are surprised that it really looks sexy. They love that it's stylish. They love that it's function, fashion and flattering," he says.
His top picks for women wearing vests would be to pair a winter white version with a cashmere turtleneck and tweed pants with a boot cut, or with a sexy scoop-neck T-shirt and jeans.
Fashionista-of-the-moment Sienna Miller has been photographed several times in denim vests and Kate Moss wears menswear vests, propelling the trend forward, says Gap spokeswoman Erica Archambault. "The look has taken on a life of its own," she says, noting that these models and style icons are even wearing vests for their nights out on the town.
Women do seem to want their vests slimmer and sleeker, and manufacturers have responded with "Chanel to Gap carrying all different kinds of vest looks," Archambault says. "It's a nice transitional weather piece. You can wear it in the colder fall into winter, and it's perfect for layering, which makes it right for different weather and occasions."
She suggests a vest for work worn over a clean black turtleneck, for evening with jeans and high-heeled boots, and on the weekends over a sweatshirt paired with casual jeans and sneakers. "It's easier than a coat. You don't have to exactly match your outfit. A brown outfit with raspberry vest complements each other enough but adds fun and color."
"Vests are this season's 'it' piece," agrees LeAnn Nealz, chief design officer at American Eagle Outfitters. "It makes anything you already have look like there's a fresh new twist to it."
Personally, Nealz is a fan of military-style vests with lots of pockets because it means she doesn't have to carry a handbag when she's running her weekend errands.
And, she says, the vest is a garment that can be appreciated by every age and demographic. College students love them with their graphic Ts or long-sleeve thermal tops; outdoor enthusiasts like them because their arms move freely, and city residents like feeling slightly less encumbered as they navigate crowded sidewalks and shop aisles.
Designers turned up the luxe factor for this otherwise practical piece by showing vests in fur and with ornate embroidery.
Cynthia Steffe's knit version was paired with a dainty chiffon blouse and Max Azria BCBG did an Edwardian-style vest that was worn over a camisole.
Vests are not fleeting trend, either.
Many of the catwalk collections for spring featured vests - either tailored menswear-style versions or as winter-to-spring outerwear.
One outstanding interpretation: An oatmeal-colored velvet mink vest as the finishing touch on an almond chiffon gown with accordion pleats by J. Mendel.
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