Now a cold-season staple, the duster came straight out of the Old West. With a hem that pooled around the ankles, the long, rugged coat shielded cowboys from the elements on cattle drives. When open-air motorcars came along, women began wearing refined, elaborate versions. In recent years, these classic pieces have become part of a Western-wear craze that has ushered in boutique hat bars, cowboy boots at fashion week, and “coastal cowgirls.” Designer Sarah Ellison Lewis has joined the revival with Texas Duster Company, an apparel brand that marries modern design with vintage flair.
“The duster was the original workwear,” she says, adding that it’s as versatile as the little black dress or the classic white button-down.
Lewis grew up in the tiny town of Anderson, about thirty miles southeast of College Station, where she tended to her show steers and received an informal fashion education from her mother, an antiques dealer with a treasure trove of vintage clothes. Together they frequented markets, including the semiannual mecca in Round Top, where they would marvel at grandiose feathered Victorian hats, necklaces made of Czech glass beads, and dresses from the forties.
In 2003, Lewis moved to New York, where she became a stylist and art director. After a decade, she came back to her home state and founded a resale business focused on designer shoes. “I was ultimately a Texas girl at heart, and I didn’t want to lose myself,” she says. She later worked with global brands to help promote their products, and last year she launched her own line, Texas Duster Company, based in Anderson.
Making dusters combines Lewis’s love of vintage with her passion for well-constructed garments that are flattering to all body types. She looks for jacquards and heavy weaves that offer durability and designer-level quality and employs local seamstresses to bring her patterns to life. “I wanted fabrics from all over the world, but I wanted Texas hands to make the product.”
To celebrate the brand’s launch, she returned to Round Top last March, setting up at the Marburger Farm Antique Show. She’s collaborating with hotels in Round Top as well as Fredericksburg and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, to offer lounge robes and dusters for guests to wear and to purchase.
Lewis loves the duster’s versatility. “You can wear it in a hotel lobby in the morning, out on the ranch, or to go out and have a cocktail.” It’s the ultimate workwear because in so many situations it just works.
How to Complete the Texas Look
Just add a hat, boots, and a belt.
Aghaa’ Hat Co.
After learning of her Navajo, Apache, and Yaqui heritage when she was around forty, designer Cynthia Gutierrez-Kräpp began connecting with her roots, studying traditional embroidery, bead weaving, and millinery, and eventually launched Aghaa’ Hat Co. Made primarily with rabbit or repurposed beaver felt, Aghaa’s offerings come in classic silhouettes that can be customized and adorned with Gutierrez-Kräpp’s beaded and woven hat bands.
This bespoke boot brand was inspired by the West Texas upbringing of sisters and codesigners Lizzie Means Duplantis and Sarah Means. The daughters of fifth-generation cattle ranchers in Valentine, the siblings worked in finance and design in New York before returning to their home state. Made by artisans in the Rio Grande Valley town of Mercedes and in León, Mexico, their boots are surefire statement pieces, featuring elaborate designs and unique color combinations.
Friends Hill Shands and Wade Green launched Zilker Belts, in 2015, after a trip to Argentina introduced them to the vibrant history of embroidered gaucho belts. With names that nod to their hometown of Austin, such as “Moontowers” and “Willie,” these colorful belts are full of personality. The company, which works with artisans in Argentina, also makes bolo ties and wallets.
This article originally appeared in the February 2024 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Why the Duster Always Works.” Subscribe today.