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A general expression for the magneto-optical polar Kerr effect is given for a bilayered configuration in which the optical constants of the two media differ. The equation shows that a giant enhancement of the Kerr effect in magneto-optical/metallic bilayers can be expected if the dielectric constants of the two materials are low or are matched well to the other. An explicit equation is also given to calculate the spectral enhancement due to a dielectric overcoating on magnetic substrates. An example is given for SiO-coated Dy/Co compositionally modulated alloys, yielding a good comparison to the experimental results in both the transparent and absorbing spectral regions of SiO. Journal of Applied Physics is copyrighted by The American Institute of Physics.