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Blazers and jackets can take a large part of your clothing budget. To get the most for your money, consider these tips: The warmest, softest, and most lightweight blazer fabric is new or virgin wool. If you can't afford pure wool, a blend is a practical alternative. Be sure to check the fiber content, which is found on either the jacket's tags or inside facings. Avoid garments made of reprocessed wool and fabrics of undetermined origin; the two often go together. Reprocessed fabric is stiff and uncomfortable to wear. It is also a dry cleaner's nightmare because of its unknown components. Polyester and acrylics do not wrinkle and are often machine washable, but they give little warmth. Corduroy is warm enough for crisp fall days but too sporty to look well with dressy blouses and skirts. Velveteen is soft and feminine, but both it and corduroy are quick to show wear at the elbows.

Single-breasted styles are more flattering to the average figure than their double-breasted counterparts.

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To decide on a shade, first decide which tones predominate in your wardrobe. Pick a solid color that coordinates with as many of these as possible, always keeping in mind that a monochromatic garment will blend with everything from prints to houndstooth checks.

Next, check overall fit. The jacket should feel comfortable when worn over normal clothing such as a skirt and blouse. If you usually wear a pullover or vest with a blazer, don't forget to wear them when you go shopping. Pay particular attention to the bustline. Skimpiness in this area will make the entire garment look tight.

Lining is essential for smooth fit, even hanging, and increased seam longevity. It should always hang free at the hem. Garments with detached linings are less inclined to pucker after dry cleaning. Make sure lining does not show below the jacket; this indicates off-grain fabric that will never hang properly. In addition, shun garments with blue linings. These often become purple with age.

The length of your blazer is determined by your own height and favorite skirt length. The shorter you and your skirt are, the shorter your jacket should be for a well-proportioned look.

Garments with lapels of medium width stay in style far longer than those with very wide or narrow ones. Make sure there is no puckering in this area. To avoid this flaw, lapels should begin to curve directly above the top buttonhole and widen gradually as they proceed toward the collar.

Pockets on the inside with only a visible slit on the outer shell of a garment are more flattering to the average figure than patch pockets placed directly at the hip.

Once you've done a complete examination of the jacket's front, go to the nearest three-way mirror to inspect the back. Pay particular attention to the following points:

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The collar should have a softly rolled rather than a flat appearance and must be wide enough to cover the neckline seam. Skimpiness in this area will cause wrinkling at the nape of the neck. Never purchase a jacket that puckers along the neckline seam. This indicates the fabric was stretched when the collar was applied.

The area beneath the shoulder blades should be smooth. Wrinkles give the impression of poor fit.

Back vents should lie flat. Protruding is another indication of swayback and makes even the slimmest figure look full in the derriere.

Plastic buttons should be the same color as the garment. Metal buttons are common on blazers, but they cut thread. This necessitates frequent (and expensive) replacements. An added disadvantage of metal buttons is that they make a garment too sporty to look well with dressy skirts and blouses.

Once you've examined both the front and back of the jacket, check the sleeves. They should cover the wrist- bone and fit over regular clothing without binding. If you are broad in the back or full in the upper arms, you will find raglan and dolman sleeves more comfortable than set-in sleeves. Avoid sleeves with a pleated cap. These add bulk in the shoulder area. There is also no way to know how long this currently popular look will stay in style.

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