It wasn't all that long ago that a woman would be most reluctant to head out the door with the hem of her skirt poking out -- the least bit -- from under her coat.

The effect was considered less than a well-groomed one, and, in a time when such things mattered, there was an unspoken admission that something -- coat or dress -- was clearly left over from another time.

Now designers are creating coat lengths for skirt hems to unabashedly show beneath. Some styles are nothing but the old "car coat" or, basically, a long jacket. Others are toppers cutting off at finger-tip length. And the rest are about seven-eighths of the skirt length.

"They are wonderful because they are so versatile," says Donna Karan, who with Louis del'Olio designs the Anne Klein line. "They work equally well over skirts and pants."

Karan, whose collection includes several short coats, favors a loose look with broadened shoulder and fullness through a deep, inverted back pleat.

A bonus of the fashion-decreed short coat, of course, is that all those coats you have tucked away in a closet because they were the wrong length could be back in style again. Yesterday's too-short coat could be au courant this year.

Not all coats, you'll notice, will make the transition gracefully: The easy-fitting, unbelted styles probably work best.