Duster Coats and the People Who Wear Them

Penelope Cruz proves that duster coats aren't just for cowboys any more.

Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

A duster is a long, lightweight, loose-fitting coat originally intended to keep dust off one's clothes, hence the name. It is a coat intended for spring and summer wear -- not so much for heavier weather. In fact, women's dusters sometimes lack buttons or other closures entirely and are meant to be worn open.

Dusters Versus Trench Coats

Dusters are often confused with trench coats, which are very similar in style. How to tell the difference? It's subtle. Trench coats are generally made of heavier fabric and usually sport an insulated lining. They're most often belted and also have epaulettes or other strap details. Finally, they usually extend to mid-calf at the longest, and the silhouette is close to the body. By contrast, dusters are made of lighter fabrics and colors and can be as long as ankle-length. The silhouette is more flowing. Often they are slit high up the back, almost to the waist.

Cowboys and Cowgirls

Dusters were born on the range and, in fact, were worn by Texas Rangers as well as real-life cowboys riding those dusty trails. Western movies helped popularize this rough-and-ready look. A cowboy hat, jeans and a light-hued duster coat in suede or oilcloth equals an instant iconic look. Urban cowgirls can choose darker hues (including badass black leather) and any outfit with slacks. Try a men's vest over something flimsy if you like. Add a splash or two of color, even if it's just an accessory. Or try something in animal print, you wild thing you. Don't forget the tooled leather boots.

Rivetheads and Steampunks

The goth, industrial and steampunk subcultures have embraced the duster with a vengeance. They prefer dark hues; black leather and vinyl are favored materials. This style of duster was seriously in vogue right after the "Matrix" films, and if you wear leather pants and a cool pair of shades with your black leather duster, everyone will still think of Keanu Reeves when they see you. Whether that's a good thing or not is up to you. Wear your duster over a fancy corset, however, and you might be leaning more toward bordello madam. Again, in the right context, it could work.

Formal Versus Casual

A duster coat over an evening gown or other more formal outfit can help soften the look without turning it too casual. The flowing lines make an ensemble feel more accessible and friendly. Beware, however, wearing a duster over an outfit that's already a little slouchy -- you can end up looking like you never quite got out of bed that morning.

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