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Hey, I know it’s not quite October, but the Farmers Almanac predicts a wet, cold winter, and I like to be prepared.

Every woman I talk to is questioning whether a new winter coat is even on her to-buy list now. This is partly due to fashion’s emphasis on layering, which happens to add warmth in addition to style, our communal dislike of big, bulky (read fattening ) puffers, and daily reports on global warming plus a tanking economy.

Frugality is “in” whether you have a corner office, worker-bee cubicle, or a desk and computer stashed in your bedroom. Funny how quickly coat designers learned from last year’s forced markdowns and clogged sales stock to rethink the entire category.

This year’s trenchcoats, those sexy-but-sensible staples (they also never go out of style) are hitting store racks in droves. What started out as a military item has shaped up to be a fashion icon — and nearly every brand is counting on its appeal to revive coat purchases.

Let’s be realistic: For truly hideous weather — treks through snow and storm — those down coats in the backs of our closets are always welcome, but trenches have an offhand glamour that’s irresistible. Trench legends like Audrey and Katharine Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and Marlene Dietrich are part of the allure, but every front-row chic-ette from Carla Bruni to Catherine Deneuve have been spotted recently in one. They work easily over trousers and pencil skirts, sheath dresses with heels, or jeans with boots — and every brand and designer has a trench in their lineup this season.

Get the double-breasted, notch collar style, and knot the belt bathrobe-style at the waist for definition, even if it has a buckle! The evolution of style has made some changes, a more fitted silhouette, a higher armhole, and leaner shoulder (even those that have epaulettes).

If you insist on a splurge, go for the original Burberry, and make it the one with leather belt and horn buttons at $1,495. But here are five fabulous and extremely reasonable alternatives that are in stores now:

1. The Gap has a fantastic taupe version in stretch cotton, double-breasted with raglan sleeves and a cozy removable wool liner for $148 (gap.com) and it comes in XS to XXL, petite and tall too. The raglan sleeve makes sliding a chunky sweater beneath simple and comfy for driving.

2. London Fog’s classic knee-length style in polyester also has a removable liner and comes in stone or black for $99.98 (macys.com). This one is lighter, ideal for milder climates and is machine washable.

3. Michael Michael Kors trench (pictured right) is a poly/acrylic/wool blend that’s very water-resistant — love the versatile button-out lining, newsy loden color, and collar that coverts to a high neck if buttoned up, all for $260 (macys.com)

4. Mossimo Black at Target has a satin trenchcoat (it’s a machine washable cotton/nylon/spandex blend) with snap closures that makes a great throw-on evening coat for $39.99. I’d choose the ebony or cement color myself, but it comes in a trendier berry or moss too. And if you want to know how much you’ve saved, check out the Behnaz Sarafpour satin trenchcoat for $1,750 or the Jean Paul Gaultier satin style at $2,180.

5. DKNY has one more bargain — a perfect, clean-lined trench in a rich saddle-brown or basic black cotton/nylon for $99.98. This is a slightly hipper trench, more fitted on top with an above the knee hemline. (macys.com)

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