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In earlier posts, I wrote the interrelations of epidemics and fashion. COVID-19 and the working from home in leggings and sweaters is just an example. In this post, I feature the impact that the introduction of automobiles had on women’s fashion. Learn about the motor age fashion.


  1. Examples of Historic Events Impacting Fashion
  2. Bertha Benz Tied her Hat with a Scarf
  3. What Women Wore around that Time
  4. Further Example Outfits of the Late Victorian Era
  5. Examples of Edwardian Era Fashion
  6. Motor Age Fashion Made to Drive a Car
  7. Conclusions on the Relation between the First Automobiles and Fashion
  8. Motor Age Fashion You Can See in Alaska
  9. Top of the World Style Linkup No. 325
  10. References


Examples of Historic Events Impacting Fashion

We all know that the weather of the climate region you live in affects how you dress. This dressing for the weather serves to keep us in thermal comfort. Therefore, outfits in the Pacific Northwest differ notably from how to dress in the subtropical humid climate of the American Southeast. Technical development, politics, wars and crisis have influenced dressing as well. Just recall the sumptuary laws of the Mid Evil times or the invention of the trench coat. It served soldiers in the trenches as protection from the rain during the Great War.

The invention of the automobile and availability of individual transportation is an example for a technological evolution affecting fashion. On first view, the inter-relation between the first cars and women’s fashion is less obvious than the impact of the sewing machine on fashion.


Examples of Historic Events Impacting Fashion: Bertha Benz Tied her Hat with a Scarf

When in August 1888, Karl Benz’s wife Bertha Benz drove the 180 km distance from Mannheim to Pforzheim, she already made the first change to the contemporary fashion of that time. On this first long distance ride, she had tied her huge fashionable hat with a scarf to her head so it wouldn’t fly away in the open car invented by her husband.


Bertha Benz with her sons after the first leg of their ride
Bertha Benz and her sons Eugen and Richard during their long-distance journey in August 1888 with the Benz Patent Motor Car. Photo linked from: Daimler Benz Konzern Tradition Geschichte Patentmotorwagen



What Women Wore around that Time

This time was in the Victorian era (~1837-1901) named after Queen Victoria of England. During this era, western women wore the most confining fashion. Despite by 1890 the crinolines and bustiers were gone, corsets served to create the hourglass shape. I recall my granny Hannah saying that when her Mom wanted to go out in the evening, her servant started in the morning tying the corset tighter every 15 minutes. Doing so allowed my great grandma to wear her fashionable dresses.


sketch illustrating how late Victorian era women got the hourglass shilouette
Illustration of the underwear, corset and bustier to achieve the Victorian era hourglass silhouette


These late Victorian dresses had high-necked tightly fitting bodices with frills, lace, tucks, embroidery and epaulettes. Sleeves needed up to 2.5 yards (2.29 m), which means they were quite voluminous. It was a prosperous and extravagant time with luxurious fashion. The style of the so-called Belle Époche (beautiful era). For women of wealthy husbands or fathers, day dresses, afternoon, dinner and evening gowns were Must-haves.

In the Edwardian era, lingerie dresses became fashionable.


black dress with red inserts and trim
Victorian era dress in hour glass S silhouette with red inserts, epaulettes and trim as well as voluminous puff sleeves


At day, boots or button shoes often with extremely high heels were in fashion, while at night, the lower French heel was It.


Victorian women boots and shoes
Glass vitrine with button boots, lace up boots and shoes


Granny Hannah told me about the ponytail that was hanging at the kitchen wall. It served to enhance the volume of my great grandma’s updo. Hair pins were more than 7 inches (18 cm) long. They served also to pin the voluminous hats to the head. Hats featured birds, feathers, nests, flowers, lace, and other extravagant pieces (see for example the featured photo).


Further Example Outfits of the Late Victorian Era

The photos below feature dresses from the late Victorian time.


underskirt, corset and dress with hourglass shape
The left mannequin shows the underskirt and corset to be worn under the dress on the right. The puff sleeves are wider than the waist. See what I am wearing mirrored in the glass of the showcase.



sequin evening gown back and front view
This evening gown shows the tail that many late Victorian era dress had. Evening dresses had some cleavage in contrast to everyday and afternoon dresses. See the S form of the body from the side. It was created via the corset.



Examples of Edwardian Era Fashion

The photo below features lingerie dresses of the late Edwardian era. The invention of the sewing machine provided the possibility for mass production of clothing. People could order clothing in a catalog. However, wealthy people hired a seamstress twice a year so she produced the same dresses for all females in the family as well as the same suits for all males. Ordering the matching clothing for the entire family was beyond affordable for normal folks. Consequently, the clothing distinguished the wealthy from the not so fortunate. A benefit of the same clothes for all kids was that hand-me downs became invisible. The new clothes were for Sunday’s Best and church. Sunday’s were also great to take a car ride.


mother and daughter lingerie dresses in white
Mother and daughter in lingerie dresses with hats in the late Edwardian Era.


The next two photos clearly show a shift to more practical clothing for women in the late Edwardian Era.


Edwardian era attire with hat
Heavy wool winter skirt and jacket ensemble with matching hat. See the sleeves became smaller and the waist more natural. Furthermore, the S-shape vanished.


Edwardian era with three button closure as a shift to motor age fashion
Edwardian era skirt coat ensemble with three button front closure and side flap pockets. The skirt has folds for freedom of motion. Sometimes skirts had bands that permitted the wearer to adjust the length. These features, of course, made entering the high automobiles more easy.


Motor Age Fashion

At the beginning of the automobile era, cars had no top. Consequently, hats and voluminous hair styles were impractical. Therefore, women who drove themselves turned to bonnets. Women passengers tied their hats with a scarf like Bertha Benz.

At that time, there were only unpaved roads. If you ever drove an unpaved road you know the dust and mud dirt that covers your car all over depending on whether the road is dry or wet, respectively. Another not so fun part of an automobile ride at the time was that the automobiles liked to spit oil or got broken tires. Therefore, to protect their clothing, women wore so-called duster coats. These dusters were very voluminous and typically had a dust-like color (see photo below).


beige buttoned duster moor age fashion
Asymmetric buttoned duster with hood to protect clothing and hair from road dust.



Conclusions on the Relation between the First Automobiles and Fashion

The introduction of individual traffic for privileged people meant a change in women fashion from huge hair styles and hats to smaller updos and hats like bonnets. Under the dusters the hour-glass silhouette became invisible and hence made no longer sense. However, it took to the late Edwardian Era until the hourglass shape and hence corsets made no longer sense.

… and today women ask “Does this car make me look fat?”

The parallel occurring women movements towards more rights, of course, also contributed to getting rid of the corset. Read how fashion changed in the last 80 years.


Mariel and me at the Fountainhead Antique Automobile Museum
Mask were required for all at the Fountainhead Antique Automobile Museum



Automobile Fashion You Can See in Alaska

You don’t come to Fairbanks by accident because today, Fairbanks is a destination. One reason, besides watching the aurora to visit Fairbanks could be to visit the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum. It has a huge collection of old car and the fashion of that time. The photos in this post show some pieces of their collection.


Top of the World Style Linkup No. 325

Top of the World Style linkup party logo

Welcome to the Top of the World Style linkup party. Last week’s awardees were…

Martina Berg in yellow pants and sandals, gray top and coat
Martina Berg from Lady 50 Plus became Top of the World OOTD Readers’ Fav. Photo from her post


Alison in white lingerie dress and black blazer
Alison from Midlife and Beyond became the Top of the World Style Winner. Photo from her post


Kellyann in leather pants and silk blouse
Kellyann from This Blonde’s Shopping Bag became the Top of the World OOTD My Fav. Photo from her post


Congrats Ladies! Grab your award buttons.

Please invite your friends.
Come join me at the Top of the World Style #linkup party. #ffblogger Click To Tweet


Gateway to the Top of the World Style Party


I invite all fashion and style bloggers to co-host the top of the World Style linkup party.



DeWitt, Nancy, 2014. Alaska’s Foutainhead Collection. Vintage treads and threads, Toppan Leefung Pte. Ltd., China.
DeWitt, Nancy, 2016. Motor Age Fashion, Toppan Leefung Pte. Ltd., China.
Döbler, Hannsferdinand, 1972. Kultur und Sittengeschichte der Welt – Kleidung, Mode, Schmuck. Bertelsmann Verlag, München, Germany.
Rodriguez McRobbie, Linda, 2015. The Classy Rise of the Trench Coat., Smithonian Magazine.
Smithsonian, 2019. Women: Our Story. DK Publishing, New York.
Taschen (Editor), 2015. Fashion History from the 18th to the 20th Century, Bibliotheca Universalis.

Photos of antique clothing and cars: N. Mölders

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