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Hot and bothered: Lusting for a coat in too-toasty Los Angeles

SEPTEMBER IN L.A. is the cruelest month for a coat fiend like me. Temperatures laze in the 80s during the day, which makes buying a chic camel-hair swing coat about as daft as owning a beach towel in Anchorage. Nevermind the other East Coast sartorial staples -- fitted turtle necks and ribbed tights -- that taunt this N.Y. expat. Mostly, it's the coat I crave. Ten years in L.A. hasn't quelled my addiction to that jolt of static electricity that comes from friction with wool. Or the tickle of twill on my neck.

Every autumn, I still need that fix.

On a recent afternoon, the sun mocks me as I drive to Barneys. There, I flirt with a Martin Grant camel cashmere cape, piped in leather with giant buttons. It's darling. I'm already sweating. A navy topcoat from Lanvin whispers, "I'm as light as meringue." Indeed. But for $2,630, I'd have to wear it every day -- even to bed! -- during the one week in January that the temperature dips to 60. And God forbid that it would rain.

A few racks away, the Marc by Marc Jacobs long felt coat in teal or red is too garrulous for me. Besides, in my go-to style bible, "The Dress Doctor," famed costume designer Edith Head notes that flame is a "hot color" -- enough said. A Moncler tiered black puffer jacket looks plump and congenial on the hanger, but adds too much bulk for a stroll down Beverly Boulevard.

My obsession with coats ignited early on. Back in second grade, when we moved from gritty Queens to a ritzy town in New Jersey, I quickly learned about the socioeconomic importance of outerwear. On the first day of school, I arrived in a cheap red winter jacket from Sears filled with lumpy faux-down filling. The girls' cubby boasted dozens of elegant coats -- lined up like wispy debutantes -- with hoods and cuffs edged in fox fur. Next to them, my red coat looked like a sunburned stevedore, and it shaped my newfound identity as a shin-kicking hellion.

Later on, during my husky adolescence, a coat became the great equalizer. Even the thinnest girls at school looked like loaves of warm bread in their winter overcoats.

At J. Crew in the Grove, the coats for this season remind me of the precious ones I remember so well. The double-breasted peacoats are in edible hues of hot pink, and there's a swingy mohair number in yellow -- for less than $300. But the silhouettes are more college sophomore than Hollywood sophisticate. They hearken to Ali MacGraw's preppy style as cancer-stricken Jenny in "Love Story," a movie set at Harvard that's wrapped in stylish layers. I often rent this heartbreaker in the fall so I can cry with Oliver (Ryan O'Neal) over lost love and those deliciously cozy coats.

This year, my aim is to be Faye Dunaway in 1968's "The Thomas Crown Affair," perhaps the ultimate celluloid ovation to outerwear -- thanks to the actress' wardrobe designer Theadora Van Runkle. Hats the size of punch bowls complement Dunaway's wardrobe of creamy coats with collars that accentuate her regal neck.

On net-a-porter.com, I spot a white Chloé military-inspired coat that both entices and conjures up images of spilled lattes. At $2,630, it would make a very pricey napkin.

In the end, I finally find my "it" coat in a sleek black design with chunky buttons and a nipped waist by Hanii Y at Barneys New York. An Eskimo would scoff at this chic confection. I'm thrilled that it costs just $585. My hands shake as I finger its sturdy but not overbearing cotton-wool blend and slip it on. The caped sleeves can be pinned up to show off bare arms or a light cashmere sweater, and it falls to mid-thigh. It's utterly impractical for autumn and winter outside of Los Angeles. Perfect.

monica.corcoran@latimes.com

Read Monica Corcoran's daily blog, All the Rage, at latimes.com/alltherage.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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