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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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