Driving Fashion – The Motor Car Duster


Heidi Mittiga, Designer Thimbles and Acorns Owner, Flossie Potter’s Patterns

In the early days of the automobile, before windscreens and roofs became available, the Duster was a ladies’ wardrobe “must have.”

As they toured through town perched upon the upholstered seats of their well-appointed motor-cars, affluent ladies needed to look smart because to “be seen” was all important.  However, roads during the close of the 19th century generally were dusty when dry and turned muddy when it rained, which wreaked havoc with fine clothing.  So the Duster, a light-weight overcoat previously worn on passenger trains because of coal dust and smoke, was again called into service.

This time, however, styling details were added so that fashion would not be compromised.  Often made of linen or other thin material, Dusters were never lined nor snug fitting; extra-wide sleeves and pleats at the hem allowed ample room for the trends of the day.  Sheer scarves worn over the head and tied under the chin kept ladies’ sophisticated hats from flying away at “high speeds” of up to 40 miles per hour, and goggles shielded their eyes from dust and debris.  Leather gloves, a carry-over from horseback riding, were considered essential accessories to complete the ensemble.

Soon the emancipation of women took a giant leap forward as they learned to drive by themselves.  No longer did they have to rely on a man to take them places, and motoring became a pleasant pastime.

Advances in automotive design made the Duster obsolete within a short period of time; but it is an iconic piece of fashion that is remembered fondly today.


Note from Shari:  Check out Heidi’s latest pattern “Driving Duster” to make your own iconic piece of history.  Throughout it you will find priceless quotes from the 1908 book, The Woman and the Car:  A Chatty Little Handbook for All Women Who Motor or Who Want to Motor, written by Dorothy Levitt, a feisty British speed record holder.