Something curious happens on the hottest summer days in Washington each year. Women drift to specialty and department stores -- perhaps to get out of the heat or to get in on the good buys at the sales -- and start buying winter clothes.

This season, while coats lure some of the spenders, the smart money is on the suits.

"Obviously it's nothing they can wear right now," says Harriet Kassman, owner of the Harriet Kassman shop. "But women are buying wool suits and when we put a fur piece with them they only buy them faster; It's Carole Lombard time all over again."

"I can't imagine what they are doing with them," says Garfinckel's Janet Wallach, "but Washington women are already buying their next fall suits."

"The suits that are selling," says Hildegarde Czerner of La Strega, "have a lot more style than what we've seen in years."

That additional styling with dressmaker details separates the current crop of suits from last year's blazer-and-skirt variety. Fitted jackets, piping, accordion pleats, belts and strong colors or black are among the distinguishing features that are attracting buyers' attention.

From left: The boucle-surfaced, black wool, belted jacket suit by Luba has a black and burgundy plaid kilt-like skirt. From Casual Corner. $190.

The accordion pleated suit in black wool with off-side buttoned and belted jacket is by Anne Klein at Woodward & Lothrup, $290.

The wool-blend, brown tweed, two-button suit by Ricky Freeman for Rafaella has a matching fringed muffler. At La Strega. $135.

The gray wool, short, boxy jacket and skirt from Bill Atkinson has been selling well at Harriet Kassman with a Norwegian fox. Jacket $176, skirt $110, fur piece $140. The black wool suit with piping on the jacket edge and pockets is by Devon Hall at Garfinckel's. $152.