Having weathered a particularly harsh winter along with the masses, New York Fashion Week designers have made outerwear a dominant trend on the runway.

Carolina Herrera, the luxury designer known for her red-carpet gowns, began her show Monday with a dark gray wool coat accented by a deep purple velvet belt.

Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, the twins behind The Row, said the recent snowstorms inspired them to include a puffy silver jacket and puffer ski pants in their collection.

Designers are hoping that customers this year will be more willing to shell out for expensive items like outerwear, which can come with higher margins, as people grow tired of what's already in their closet. Luxury customers severely cut back their spending in 2008 when economic turmoil took hold. They delayed big-ticket or seemingly flashy purchases in 2009 as well, when conspicuous consumption became taboo.

"I have to buy a new coat this year," said Ron Frasch, Saks Inc.'s SKS +0.47%president and chief merchandising officer after Ms. Herrera's show on Monday morning. "You have to, because they're so great."

To ease the potential pain of a big-ticket purchase like a coat, the designers made the pieces versatile. Many garments on the runway could be worn as a part of a suit or as a standalone jacket.

"The designers are using outerwear as a layering piece," Mr. Frasch said. "They maybe look like a jacket to a suit, but they're also sufficient to wear in the early fall and this time of year."

A red wool sleeveless coat at Derek Lam could be worn either on its own or over a long-sleeved top, as could a striking raspberry motorcycle jacket from Tracy Reese.

Ms. Reese added fur stoles to her eveningwear and sent several long statement coats down the runway, garments she called "storm coats."

"We've had such a brutal winter. We need protection, but it has to be beautiful protection," Ms. Reese said backstage before her show. "Silhouettes that are kind of enveloping, I love the idea of that."

Elise Overland had an obvious emphasis on the elements, holding her presentation on an ice rink Saturday evening. Jason Wu began his show with a flannel coat, while Rebecca Minkoff opened with a shearling jacket.

The outerwear pieces came in a range of colors, from muted neutrals to vibrant brights. Many of the pieces offered face-framing features, such as an exaggerated cowl neck or a scarf.

Capes offered a new take on transitional dressing. Ms. Herrera showed a gray caplet with a matching trouser. A hooded wool olive cape at Max Azria looked as if it was a hybrid shawl.

Donna Karan included two capes in her DKNY show Sunday afternoon, which at first glance looked like a blazer hanging over the models' shoulders.

"The average winter coat is no longer acceptable," said Robert Burke, founder of the luxury retail consultancy Robert Burke Associates. "Now you have to have the fashion winter coat."

The Olsen twins hit on another prevalent trend of the season: fur. Using the animated film "Fantastic Mr. Fox" as a jumping off point, The Row fall collection featured luxurious fox fur coats and statement-making fur hats. A blue fox coat was paired with leather and then sewn to suggest a traditional puffer jacket.

"The fabric is so stunning to touch and to wear, and to look at," Mary-Kate Olsen said.

—Elva Ramirez contributed to this article.