The front lines

A new style brigade has started to invade stores and malls, and the rank and file are, not surprisingly, wearing a uniform -- of sorts. Military-inspired jackets are a key item for the fall season, and they've been designed in a range of styles, at price points to suit almost any budget.

This style of jacket has moved in and out of fashion for decades, particularly in the music world, beginning with the Beatles and "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." More recently Chris Martin of Coldplay, Lupe Fiasco and Kanye West have worn military-inspired jackets, updating them with slim jeans and designer sneakers.

But this time, it's the girls who will be carrying on the tradition.

When Balmain models walked down the runway in the spring in beaded applique versions, the jacket quickly became one of the season's most coveted pieces. Beyonce and Rihanna have been seen out and about in the jacket and distressed jeans, but with a $11,410 price tag, it takes a pop diva paycheck to get the Balmain coat. Thankfully, other labels are riffing on the style.

A cropped, embellished jacket from Alice + Olivia is the closest to Balmain. At $550, it's on the high side, but for those with deep pockets, the beading and sequins of the garment will transform even the simplest basics, such as jeans and a T-shirt. The "Erica" jacket from Bird by Juicy Couture, cut from thick, warm wool, has traditional military-marching-band details such as engraved buttons and strong wide shoulders. If you like the sharp, cropped look of the jacket but don't want passersby to have to salute, Club Monaco makes a simple navy blue jacket that has the right shape but eschews all the bells and whistles.

These jackets are best worn with slim jeans and a drapey T-shirt, which offset the typically boxy shape of the coat. If you think the style can read a bit masculine, one solution is to balance the look with sky-high stilettos and bold earrings in gold or brass to play off the buttons. The bottom line: Make the jacket the focal point. With all the variations hitting stores now, it doesn't have to be Balmain to look as if you're with the band.


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