You Auto be my Valentine

"You Auto be mine Own Valentine" antique H. Wessler embossed postcard

Ransom E. Olds first pioneered mass-produced cars in 1902, but Henry Ford’s Model T of 1908 made the car a more affordable option. The automobile introduced fundamental changes into American social and cultural life. After the cars initial introduction in the late 1890s, motoring developed into a favorite leisure activity of the wealthy, and clothes specific to this newfound sport were quickly developed and widely adopted.

Duster Coat from FIDM used as an example of automobile fashion
Duster Coat from the FIDM Museum

The automobile’s social impact was revolutionary. The sale of millions of automobiles created “car culture” in the United States. Dating patterns changed because young couples were no longer confined to home, church, or the downtown soda shop. Up through the teens, love songs began to involve the automobile, including the notable In My Merry Oldsmobile (1905). Valentines in the shape of cars that hinted at honeymoons, postcards showing joyrides, and other similar products further cemented the car into American culture.

Motoring garments such as the duster were essential in protecting travelers from the elements—dust, rain, wind—which the automobiles stirred up. Fashionable motoring apparel was advertised and written about in new motoring publications that catered to both men and women, before cars developed to be protective enough not to require specialized apparel.

This motoring duster coat is made of off-white silk with black trim. It was made between 1910-1915, though the maker is unknown. The duster was gifted to the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in 2007 from the California Hospital Medical Center and is a part of their study collection. Silk Dusters in 1915 cost around $10 (Los Angeles Times 1915, 15).

Learn more in my book, Artifacts from American Fashion (ABC-CLIO).

Book Cover for Artifacts from American Fashion by Heather Vaughan Lee

This post is one in a series that gives readers a sneak-peek into my book Artifacts from American Fashion , as well as the research behind it. The book offers readers a unique look at daily life in twentieth-century America through the lens of fashion and clothing. It covers forty-five essential articles of fashion or accessories, chosen to illuminate significant areas of twentieth-century American daily life and history, including Politics, World Events, and War; Transportation and Technology; Home and Work Life; Art and Entertainment; Health, Sport, and Leisure; and Alternative Cultures, Youth, Ethnic, Queer, and Counter Culture. Through these artifacts, readers can follow the major events, social movements, cultural shifts, and technological developments that shaped our daily life in the U.S.


Heather Vaughan Lee Profile Picture

Heather Vaughan Lee is the founding author of Fashion Historia. She is an author and historian, whose work focuses on the study of dress in the late 19th through the 20th century. Covering a range of topics and perspectives in dress history, she is primarily known for her research on designer Natacha Rambova, American fashion history, and the history of knitting in America and the UK. Her new book, Artifacts from American Fashion (ABC-CLIO) is available wherever books are sold.  More posts by the Author »

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