When it starts to rain, it's the signal for some people to take off their raincoats.

When raindrops started falling in Paris recently, as fashion scribes raced around the city, many of the crowd doffed their Burberrys and other status-brand trench coats and donned the real rain repelers: plastic or vinyl.

Plastic raincoats used to be stiff and crackly cover-ups worthy only for the most dire emergency. Things have changed: the new crop of colorful, pliable synthetics that spurn water like, well, plastic, have become fashionable. And since what you're wearing underneath shows through, you can have a different effect every time you step out.

Best in the line are the coats with their own hoods, purchased large enought to accommodate sweaters and even jackets with padded shoulders underneath. For the young, dash-about crowd, there's the super blouson, though it doesn't prevent dampness around the knees. (But for that crowd, damp knees don't seem to matter anyway.)

Another favorite in Paris was the poncho, a perfect put-on for rain, if you are not dealing with driving, public transportation, or the juggling of books and bags.

Besides their protection and good looks, these plastic coats have a good deal of price appeal. They're under $10. Plus they take virtually no space in a suitcase or in a drawer.

Some other reminders, if you want to be sensible about April showers:

Molded rubber boots guaranteed not to leak come in flat as well as high-heeled versions. And don't forget the plastic umbrellas with clear panels to see you through the rain. CAPTION: Picture, Fiorucci's hooded plastic parka, $3.99 at Commander Slamander (with rubber boots from Garfinckel's); drawstring-waistline zip-front coat from Bloomingdale's, $10; hooded coat from Hecht's, $6.50. By James A. Parcell -- The Washington Post