Category: edwardian

Motoring Ensembles: Headgear, Gloves, and Car Coats in 1907-1919

As the weather warms in the U.S. where this post is written, it means more time for the outdoors and even an open-top car. Of course, if we were living in the early 1900s, most cars (or horse-less carriages) would have existed without a roof. Just as riding in a carriage or on a horse required certain clothing items, the earliest automobile models were open-topped and the exposure to the elements while driving created the need for specific driving clothing and accessories — or “motoring” clothing, as it was often called at the time.

By about 1920, most cars were manufactured as a full enclosure that was more protective from the elements, but prior to this time in the early 1900s, clothing with greater protection was needed. What’s interesting about this exposed-rider period is the high degree of functionality needed to contend with the elements of the road and how ladies could still meet these needs in a way that was stylish. The examples of headgear, gloves, and coats for women below are from 1907-1919, during which cars became more widely available but most models still closely resembled an open carriage.

The illustration on the cover of The Lady of the Blue Motor (1907) shows examples of these stylish but practical elements combined:

1907, Paternoster, G. Sidney (George Sidney), 1866-, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Head and Eye-wear:

Motoring hats for women typically had a wide brim, were tied under the chin, and often had a face veil covering that went over the hat. Many times ladies would wear their usual daywear hats but with a motoring veil to cover it. The wide brim was fashionable in the early Edwardian era, but also offered greater covering from the sun and/or rain. The tie across the top of the hat and under the chin was usually a sheer woven chiffon-type fabric, made of a water-proofed silk and/or cotton. It was easy to see through but also secured the hat to the head while moving at full speed. Also made of a sheer fabric was the face veil. This allowed for visibility while protecting the wearer’s face from any dust or dirt kicked up from the road. Similarly to the veil, sometimes glasses or goggles were added to further protect the driver, especially if the car did not have a windshield like the one below.

This example below is more of a make-shift veil from 1910. It looks like a veil over her hat is tied under her chin, and another is wrapped across her mouth as a face mask. She is also wearing motor goggles. Undoubtedly some form of eye protection would have been necessary for a long drive in this car as there is no front shield to block the dirt from the road.

Dogs – Motoring. , 1910. Sept. Photograph.

This print example shows a more delicate type of motoring veil with a sheer dotted net from 1910. To zoom in, go Here.

For a full coverage veil, the Autaro veil from 1910 below offered a solution that “solves the motor veil problem.” Perhaps suggesting it solved the problem of veils that did not cover enough of the wearer or stayed securely fastened while driving.

1910, Library of Congress

This illustration from 1905 (for the year 1906) provides a clearer example of how the motor veil was often tied over the top of the hat and around the neck for security.

Penfield, Edward, Artist. Automobile Calendar for. , ca. 1905. N.Y.: Gill. Photograph.

Eleanor Blevins was one of the well-known early female drivers, and this picture shows Blevins in 1905. She was an actress who also enjoyed racing cars and drove a Stutz Weightman Special, which was equipped to better handle high speeds. This is a good image of the googles women may have worn while on the road. Less necessary for most leisurely drives, but more likely used for a longer time spent on the road, and certainly for a race car driver like Blevins. The cap would have been more specific to a road race.

Harris & Ewing, photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


With your hands exposed to the rays of the sun, precipitation, wind, and cold, a covering for your hands would be needed for a long drive. Note that above, Blevins also wears fur gloves which would have kept her hands warm in a colder, high-speed race.

While the example below showcases a lot of driving style elements from 1911, the leather gloves are prominently shown gripping the wheel. The sturdy leather would have been a good material for protection and still stylish.

Affinities. , 1911. [Brockton, Massachusetts: publisher not transcribed] Photograph.

This photo below shows another famous female racer, Camille du Gast of France in 1904. We see her clutching her leather driving gloves in her hand here. She also wears what appears to be a leather double breasted duster coat and a feminine, dotted veil over her racing cap.

Jules Beau, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Car Coats:

Imagine a long drive in an open car along a dirt road – you would be covered in dust! Dusters, were originally made for horseback riding, typically of a lighter material that were full length with a slit up the back, but easily adapted to riding in an open vehicle. Car coats or motor coats were typically made of leather, suede or a heavy wool like tweed or broadcloth, and usually had a wide collar or notched lapel. Car coats were more broad in scope in terms of construction and could reach from below the knee to the floor. In either case, duster and car/motor coats offered full-body protection from any debris and dust that might fly up from the road. They typically buttoned up the front and could be single or double breasted, and reached below the knees. Although there are no examples included here, it is also important to note that leggings and foot protectors were often worn underneath the coat.

The car coat below is made of suede with a fur collar, because “nobody minds a little extra warmth if it’s becoming,” as seen in Picture-Play magazine in Sept. 1919.

Picture-Play, p 76

A stylish woman here is portrayed wearing a matching motoring set with a car coat in an eye-catching red ca. 1909. This ensemble would have been very fashionable, but also practical in terms of its full coverage. Even in this idealized image, notice the loose cut of the sleeves which would have allowed for more movement.

Elise. , ca. 1909. [Coshocton, Ohio: publisher not transcribed] Photograph.

As opposed to the stylized example above, this photo of race car driver Eleanor Blevins in 1915 below shows the dirt on her duster post-drive. This must have been a cold day as we can see she is wearing fur gloves (like the prior photo above) and a fur collar on her coat underneath the duster. She also sports googles and a cap for head and face protection, and gaiters over her shoes. The cap would have been better suited to racing versus an everyday or touring drive. The material of this coat is likely a water-proof cotton.

Harris & Ewing, photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

One last example of the classic car coat is shown here from 1903. This coat is double breasted with a notched lapel and wide cut sleeves.

Penfield, Edward, Artist. Colliers. Automobile Number / Edward Penfield. , 1903. New York: P.F. Collier, Inc. Photograph.

It’s interesting to see ensembles from the turn of the century that were specific to driving. It would not occur to us today to wear something specific to driving in order to enter a car. In looking at the open construction of the cars from the early 1900s, it seems necessary to have had a protective covering from the dirt on the road and the exposure to the elements. Of course, fashionable examples were available even for the most practical of garments and the industry was probably glad to supply a new niche in the motoring dress market. I hope you’ll think of these car ensembles next time you hit the road!

-Danielle Morrin

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Historic Speaker Series: Clothing and Textiles of the Meadowlands 1890-1915

Historic Speaker Series: Clothing and Textiles of the Meadowlands 1890-1915

This month, I gave a talk on Zoom as part of the Meadowlands Museum‘s Historic Speaker Series! This talk covered information from the 2018 exhibit at the Museum, A Stitch in Time: Clothing & Textiles of the Meadowlands,1890 to 1915.

A few highlights from the talk are shown in this month’s post for anyone who was not able to tune in virtually covering! The focus of the highlights is on bleacheries, silk production, and embroidery of the Meadowlands region.

The exhibit, and subsequent talk, is meant to emphasize the power and peak of the textile industry in Northern New Jersey during this period. While most might think of New York City as dominating the garment industry, Northern New Jersey’s silk production and embroidery work were unparalleled in the country at this time. NYC may have dominated the garment trade in terms of completing and selling finished garments, but Northern NJ was a giant in wool and silk fabric production, mechanized embroidery work, and played a significant role in other areas of textile and notion production. The exhibit and talk also bring to light some beautiful garments from the Museum’s collection and how these would have fit into the larger fashion picture, in terms of silhouette and style.

A close-up of the embroidery on this lingerie dress – discussed later in the post

Continue reading “Historic Speaker Series: Clothing and Textiles of the Meadowlands 1890-1915”
Threatening Style: Clothing Laws and Enforcement from 1880-1930

Threatening Style: Clothing Laws and Enforcement from 1880-1930

This month’s post follows suit from last month’s The Hat-Pin: Fashionably Dangerous. Below are laws and arrests as related to the hat-pin and other fashion items considered morally corrupt, impeding, or dangerous to society….

1 Shorten and Cap those Hat-Pins

Kantluze Hat Pin, “Cannot Injure Scalp, Ornamental Tops,” From @nypl digital collections.

As the hat-pin became a formidable preventionary tactic from lecherous men, some long hat-pins became worrisome to the public for the potential damage they could inflict. Cities began enacting laws that would regulate the size of the hat-pins to prevent more serious damage. Check out some of the laws that were passed, most of which are noted in the book, The Hatpin Menace[1]:

  • March 1910 – Chicago passed a law that banned any hat-pin longer than 9 inches.[2]
  • April 3, 1913 – A New Jersey law stated that any hatpin which could inflict a laceration upon another person needed to be covered with a protective tip. Any violators would be fined between $5-$25.
  • April 12, 1913 – In Massachusetts, a law went into effect that made it illegal to wear a hat-pin that extended ½” beyond the hat being worn, unless the end of the hat-pin was covered with a protective tip
Photographed in Tallahassee, Florida between 1885 and 1910, Alvan S. Harper (1847-1911), No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons

Continue reading “Threatening Style: Clothing Laws and Enforcement from 1880-1930”

The Hat-Pin : Fashionably Dangerous

While hat-pins are no longer considered a necessary finishing touch on our ensembles today, for women in the 19th century, and until the popularity of the close-fitting cloche hats of the 1920s, they certainly were!

Hat-Pin Girl by Charles Dana Gibson, ca. 1905, Public domain

Hat styles changed continuously, reaching their most dramatic proportions in the early Edwardian era, around 1910. The hat-pins this post concerns are those shaped like a long needle. This would have pierced the back or side of the hat material (like a needle threaded through fabric), grabbed the hair of the wearer underneath for stability, and then pierced through the hat again with the middle of the pin covered by the hat material. This simple method secured the hat to the wearer’s head and left both ends of the pin exposed, which provided an opportunity for embellishment.

A high-fashion hat-pin and its box by Cartier. Platinum, sapphires, diamonds, 1910, France, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum / Public domain

A hat-pin could be a luxurious finishing touch or an innocuous practical measure, but they could even be used as a weapon in a pinch! More like a needle than a knife, hat pins could still inflict damage if necessary. There are actually accounts of hat-pins used as a weapon and it was alluded to in many films and stories.

Continue reading “The Hat-Pin : Fashionably Dangerous”

The Australian Mermaid: Annette Kellerman

Annette Kellerman was ahead of her time for her physical abilities in the water, her belief in the need for women to maintain a healthy body, and importantly in fashion by her swimwear. She seemed to live in a different era, undeterred by the formalities and restrictions, (whether real or self-imposed) that prevented most women from doing the same. In fact, many of things she did would never have occurred to most women of the early 20th century.

Originally from Australia, Annette took her talents worldwide, breaking swimming and diving records, traveling to various theater stages in Europe and the United States, and eventually made Hollywood silent films that showcased her talents. Hollywood later revisited her incredibly life story, and Ester Williams would channel Annette in The Million Dollar Mermaid (1952).

Annette_Kellerman pic 1
Annette Kellerman in a self-designed bathing suit, ca. 1903-1913, [Public Domain]
Continue reading “The Australian Mermaid: Annette Kellerman”