Monday, October 1, 2012

Edwardian Motoring Clothing

by Nancy DeWitt
Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

When automobiles were a novelty during their earliest stages of development, drivers and passengers wore whatever they had available, usually the same attire they chose for riding in horse-drawn carriages. But as automobiles became more common after the turn of the 20th Century, specialized clothing and other motoring gear became essential to protect oneself from clouds of dust, flying rocks, and mud and oil splatters. The first cars were “open,” having no windscreens, door or side windows. Even those riding in automobiles with windshields and tops were vulnerable to dust and oil splatters.

To protect their clothes, both men and women wore loose topcoats of leather, or dusters. Dusters ranged from simple linen garments to silk coats accented with pretty trimming, but unlined linen dusters with no trim were the easiest to wash. Most had large pockets for maps, gloves, bandanas and other travel necessities. Some men wore dusters made of canvas or oilskin to protect their clothes while changing flat tires and making on-the-spot repairs. You can see several styles of duster on display in our museum.

A 1909 Sears Catalog lists a simple “Duster of Linene in fine-quality Chambray in gun-metal gray” for $2.98. For inclement weather, a lady could purchase an automobile coat made from rubberized mohair for $8.98, while one of rubberized silk cost $14.98. Sounds cheap, but these would cost you around $75, $225 and $370, respectively, in today’s dollars.

The fashionably large hats of the time proved a challenge for female automobilists. Large scarves could be wrapped over a hat to hold it in place, but narrower hats were more practical. Automobile bonnets also came into fashion and were especially favored by women daring enough to drive their own car. Whatever the style choice, many wore gauze veils to protect their faces from dirt and oil. 

Male motorists favored caps, goggles and gauntlet gloves, as modeled here by museum manager Willy Vinton. Because of the need for frequent tire changes and repairs, men often wore breeches with boots or leather leggings, rather than trousers. 

In the winter, fur coats were popular among both male and female motorists, supplemented by lap robes, fur muffs and foot warmers in open cars. Today, it is not unusual to see someone without a coat or hat driving in Fairbanks at -40ยบ. Times have changed! 

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