Woman's dust coat dress

Contributed by: Gulgong Pioneers Museum

side view front view back view
  • Australian dress register ID:

  • Owner:

    Gulgong Pioneers Museum
  • Date range:

    1880 - 1890
  • Place of origin:

    Gulgong, New South Wales, Australia
  • Gender:

[Collapse all]

Object information

Significance statement

This is an important example of occupational or travel dress. Unostenatious garments, such as this one, can be overlooked in collections, but this garment is quite rare. Sometimes called a 'duster' they are quite common in American mail order catalogues. They were worn over smart clothes to protect from dust or weather. The fastening right down the front, to the absolute bottom of the hem, suggests the wearer intended to eliminate any speck of dust collecting on her more expensive garments, worn underneath. The drab colour was designed to cater for dust which could be from housework or from riding behind a pony and trap. The drab coloured silk doesn't show the dust and will not absorb it. With a brisk shake, it can be removed. It is a little too early in style (c1880) to be a motoring coat and was probably used in a sulky or carriage. Motoring coats were made in this same tussah silk.

With the new emphasis on travel during the 2nd half of the 19th century, it could have also been purchased for travel further afield - a trip of a lifetime to Egypt. We must not forget that, everywhere you went, dust was more prevalent with unmade roads and open carriages. Living in Gulgong in country New South Wales would also have required long trips to the city to stock up and attend important events.

Author: Sue Nicholls, Lindie Ward, 25/6/2014.


Full length button through garment in brownish yellow  tussah silk with pleated self frill. Shoulder seam drops forward as in a yoke and is gathered into the neckband and shoulder. Trimmed with pleated self frill around neck and right front and sleeve cuffs. A wide pocket opening provides access to a skirt pocket that would be worn underneath or possibly a chatelaine.  Sleeve is two piece. Back has three shaping seams at the centre. Centre back skirt is box pleated from just below the waist and is shaped to fit over the skirt bustle worn underneath.

History and Provenance

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

These are commonly advertised in American mail order catalogues. 

  1. Place of origin:

    Gulgong, New South Wales, Australia

Trimmings / Decoration

25mm pleated self frill around neck, right front and cuffs.

Fibre / Weave

Undyed natural colour - brownish yellow, plain weave slubbed raw silk, typical of tussah.

Tussah (wild) silk is often used in the nineteenth century to cover and protect against dust. Tussah silk is inhospitable to dust mites. 

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye


Probably professionally made, machine stitched except for hand stitched mending in places. Armholes strengthened with piping to prevent tearing. 


no label

  1. Hand sewn
  2. Machine sewn
  3. Knitted
  4. Other


Princess line - no waist seam shoulder to hem.

  1. Bias
  2. Straight


Buttons and buttonholes down entire front - possibly early plastic, appear to be original as they have unusual sunk holes for thread.

  1. Hook and eye
  2. Lacing
  3. Buttons
  4. Zip
  5. Drawstring

Stiffening / Lining / Padding

piping in armholes


Neck 400 mm
Chest 880 mm
Cuff 260 mm
Hem circumference 720 mm
Front neck to hem 1290 mm
Back neck to hem 1420 mm
Sleeve length 530 mm
Neck to sleeve head 150 mm
Cross back 370 mm
Underarm to underarm 490 mm
Convert to inches

Widest section of fabric is 620 mm

Dress Themes

Motoring dust coats of this type were commonly worn once the automobile was in use in Australia (1901 onwards). This dress appears to predate this and may be an example of protective wear for travelling in a buggy or carriage. There is one illustrated in V&A 'Four Hundred Years of Fashion' which it is speculated may have been worn on a trip to Egypt due to the quantities of dust that it shed when cleaned. 

Additional material

Articles, publications, diagrams and receipts descriptions

Other related objects

V&A collection T.15&A-1979 from c1894 tussah silk suit


Buttons securlely attached, nothing major wrong with the dress. 

Small tear on left front (possible where a broach has been worn to attach a scarf). 

Evidence of repairs

Stitches to re-attach frills, few tiny holes


  1. Excellent
  2. Good
  3. Fair
  4. Poor
[Collapse all]