Motoring Coat and Goggles
Early car enthusiasts had open vehicles. They dressed to protect themselves, hence this motoring coat and goggles.
"In the case of driving or riding there are two things only to be considered: how a woman can keep herself warm in the winter and not suffocated by dust in the summer without making herself very unattractive."
--Lady Jeune, English columnist
Modern Kansans rarely think twice about how to dress before jumping in their cars to drive across town or down the highway. Even in the coldest winter weather, we simply put on a coat, crank up the heat, and go on our way.
This wasn't the case a hundred years ago. Weather in Kansas is known for extremes, and it affected early car enthusiasts. Wind, rain, or snow could ruin an outing. The first automobiles were open. They had no windshield, side, or rear windows. Heaters were useless with nothing to trap the warm air in the cabin. In dry weather, dust made it hard to breathe and see.
Dressing appropriately for the conditions was the only way to make a car ride more enjoyable. While this was true for both men and women, ladies had a concern above that of comfort: looking good. The last thing a woman wanted was to dress in her finest clothes, only to cover it up with an ugly coat. At the same time, she didn't want her clothes to be ruined by the elements.
Speed of travel also affected attire. A lady could wear a pretty dress and a smart hat as long as she was just taking a leisurely drive in the park. But what of those ladies who loved to drive fast or had husbands with lead feet? They required an extensive wardrobe, consisting of a jacket, hat, and protective eyewear, to keep them clean and safe on the road.
The duster shown here is an example of how one Kansan, Dora Boeger, battled the elements. The jacket is made of unlined linen, which suggests that she wore it during the warmer months. In the winter, she had to wear layers of warm clothes, from her undergarments to her coat. Her winter coat would have been long to keep her legs warm and might have been lined with fur, with a leather exterior.
Protecting the eyes was more important than protecting the clothing. Though they somewhat resemble modern sunglasses, goggles served an entirely different purpose. A woman couldn't wear dainty glasses on a drive. There was a chance that they could come off, and they couldn't fully protect her eyes from the dust, debris, and insects she might encounter on the road. Goggles fit more tightly and provided better comfort and protection. During the winter, they also helped protect the eyes from cold air. Irritation from dust, wind, and cold could cause serious eye conditions. Doctors recommended that people wash their eyes with a solution of water and boric acid upon returning home after a drive, even if they wore goggles. The solution was thought to remove dust and debris, as well as act as a disinfectant.
As an added layer of protection, ladies also wore hats and veils to protect them from dust. Hats had to be small and well secured to keep them from blowing away. Like goggles, driving veils weren't delicate. Often, they resembled a blanket wrapped over a woman's head and tied under her chin. Edwin Menninger, youngest son of the family of renowned Topeka psychiatrists, observed that his mother wore such headgear on a family trip to Colorado. Both his parents wore linen dusters and goggles. Because of the automobile's new popularity and status, people were generally happy to sacrifice looking good for their new hobby.
Dora Boeger's daughter donated the duster to the Kansas Museum of History in 1974. Dora, who lived in Topeka, purchased the duster new around 1907. The family of Aron Treger donated the goggles to the museum in 1982. Treger was a jeweler and optometrist in WaKeeny, Kansas, from around 1915 until 1920. These goggles may have been sold in his store.
Entry: Motoring Coat and Goggles
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: January 2010
Date Modified: December 2014
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.