Long Sweater-Coats for Fall

When Coco Chanel decided to branch out from selling hats in her Paris boutique, she turned straight to sweaters. They're versatile and comfortable, and women can't seem to have too many. Since then, knits have become a Chanel mainstay.

This season, they're hotter than ever. Belted, buttoned, zipped or tied, these knits can be worn as coats, dresses or in place of a blazer around the office. Chanel's current collection includes two sweater dresses, both elegantly subdued: a plum wool-jersey jacket and a stunningly sexy cashmere variation on the little black dress ($3,351 and $2,758; chanel.com).

The world's largest cashmere manufacturer, Loro Piana, offers a wealth of sweater dresses and jackets, often pairing them. Its wool minidress and coat combine comfort and couture, in the true spirit of sweater chic ($1,595 and $2,500; loropiana.com).

Other top designers are using some of the finest wools available to go bold and quirky. Stella McCartney makes her sweater-coats playful and unpretentious, opting for egg-shaped styles made from dense, comfy-looking knits. One piece even employs a chunky silver zipper ($3,795; stellamccartney.com). Malo offers similarly playful designs, featuring muted colors, shaggy fabrics and architectural cuts, all in cashmere ($1,300 to $2,000; malo.it). Sonia Rykiel's most striking sweater ensemble is red, with knit bows and ruffles (skirt, $905; cape, $1,558; soniarykiel.fr).

Giles Deacon also went bold this season. His olive, tie-waist, pocketed dress is knit so thickly it wears like a sleeping bag (Giles has no Web site, but he's the new creative director at Daks (daks.com), and his fall collection can be viewed at style.com. Comparatively, Burberry's "chunky" sweater dress ($826; uk.burberry.com) looks sleek. But cozy.