As summer approaches, it's time to get your scoat

Every summer, fashion throws up a surprise hit; the sort of thing that when you first see it, you think, "Urgh, how strange!" yet within weeks, you find yourself mad keen to have one of your own.

Last year's appealing oddity was the flatform sandal – an ugly creation with a clumpy slab of a sole which at first didn't seem to do anyone any favours. But it had its advantages. It gave the wearer a couple of inches of extra height and more importantly, it was comfortable and easy to walk in.

This year's hot contender for the role of improbable must-have is the scoat; a sleeveless coat that looks like an overgrown waistcoat.

It's not really a waistcoat, since that term implies something neat, short and structured. Scoats are long – somewhere between hip and knee length, shapeless and have no front fastenings to speak of, so they drape and flap. Having no sleeves, they won't provide the warmth or protection of a coat or a gilet.

So they're initially unflattering and impractical and yet, and yet ... there were some beauties on the catwalks, pretty long embroidered ones in shiny-jewel colours from Dior, fierce studded ones in black and white leather at Givenchy, wafty hippy-luxe ones from Dries Van Noten.

Browns Fashion, the London boutique that is always a reliable arbiter of what is soon to be cool, has given the scoat its seal of approval.

"The sleeveless coat is the perfect transitional piece," says buying director Laura Larbalestier. "When it's not quite summer you can layer it over something warmer and when the weather finally warms up it's the perfect cover-up." She has already fallen for one. "The Dries Van Noten one was my first spring purchase," she confesses. "It's like a summer fur only it is made from ribbon. I love the rainbow effect and it's an instant summer boost even on a grey London day."

And where the catwalk leads, the high street has been quick to follow. Zara deals out its fashion-forward offerings more quickly than most stores across the whole of Europe and a scamper round the Zara website shows that the brand has plumped for scoats in a big way. There are tidy, structured ones that would look good in an office, one that is more or less a sleeveless tuxedo, and laid-back ones that wouldn't look out of place at a festival.

And that's the crux of their appeal – even the novice clothes-horse can see that the scoat can be many things to many people and if you ask a professional stylist such as Eliana Phaneuf, who works as an image consultant in Paris, they are an excitingly versatile option.

"You can wear it by itself as a dress with a nice belt, you can layer it on top of a dress to cover up transparent summer materials or any lumps and bumps, or you could pop it over an informal dress to make it into a more professional outfit," she suggests."It also looks very cool worn with high heels and boyfriend jeans. I'd recommend that you choose one that is more fitted. Some cuts are very boxy and will add too much volume to the waist."

She herself has invested in a couple of styles already (from Mango and Zara) and reports that the salesgirls say they are selling well already. "I predict it will be very fashionable this season here in Paris," she adds. "It's a modern take on the classic waistcoat, and French girls love classic pieces."

Wedges have the edge

And what about footwear? Vogue, ever on the front foot, reckons that the jazzed-up ugly sports sandal is ready to take centre stage, though this is a brave choice for anyone who doesn't work near fashion's cutting edge (other people may not understand that it's super-cool and simply think that you have taken leave of your senses). And for now, the really hot money is on wedges; wedge sandals, wedge espadrilles, wedge flatforms, even. Just so that you know.