What’s the difference? Trenchcoat vs Duster

Today, yet another episode in my ongoing series "What's the difference?" This time, a non-computer-related topic.

I am often complimented on my choice of outerwear in the Seattle rainy season, and I hate to respond to a well-meant compliment with a correction. So I usually let all those "Nice trenchcoat!" comments slide and just say "Thanks!" But as a public service, let me lay it out for you so that you don't make the same mistake. Here we see David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor wearing a classic example of a trenchcoat: (Click for a larger version.)


The trenchcoat is a long waterproof coat, traditionally made of gabardine. The term originated in the trenches of the First World War, due to the popularity of this style of coat amongst officers in the British armed forces. The trench coat is not merely a functional warm raincoat but also stylish, with long wide lapels and decorative buttons. The trenchcoat is often belted and might be tailored in at the waist, particularly for women's trenchcoats.

A duster is also a long waterproof coat that is often referred to as a "trenchcoat" -- but as you'll see, it is quite different in its details. Here's the duster I wear, an Australian-made Driza-Bone:



Note the lack of decorative elements, the flap over the closure, the no-lapel collar (which clasps shut, completely enclosing the neck if necessary) and the built-in extra rain protection on the shoulders. (*) Dusters are typically made of oilcloth and are built for handling the practicalities of herding sheep in the rain, not for style (**).

Not shown in this view: the interior includes straps that let you attach the bottom of the coat to your legs, so that it does not blow around when you are on horseback. Also, the back is cut in such a way that you can cover both your legs and the rear portion of the saddle with the coat. I usually take the bus and not a horse to work, but still it's nice to know that options are available should I need them. These practical elements are usually not present in trenchcoats.

Right, glad we got that sorted out. Next time: What is binding, and why is it always either early or late? Can't it ever be on time?

(*) Duster manufacturers always hasten to point out that the shoulders are already waterproof; the extra layer keeps your shoulders warmer by shedding rain more effectively.

(**) There are, of course, some dusters built for style; if you watch the "Matrix" series of movies you'll see the heroes wear an assortment of extremely stylish dusters and trenchcoats both.

Comments (18)

  1. Mike Greger says:


    I never know what I'm going to learn here, but it is always interesting.

    Extra points for mentioning David Tennant as the Doctor.

  2. Brian says:

    It's a cardigan, but thanks for noticing!

  3. Richard Thorne says:

    I've always been a Greatcoat man myself, but excellent choice sir. 🙂

  4. Mike Caron says:

    Excellent timing on this post! I've just been reading the Dreden Files series (en.wikipedia.org/…/The_Dresden_Files), and the main character is described as wearing a leather duster, and I'd been meaning to look up what, exactly, a duster is. Now I know!

  5. paul.deaver@intergraph.com says:

    So, let's say you postpone binding those interior Duster straps to your legs until the wind/rain begins.  Is this an example of late binding, or might it be your Duster operator is making a JIT decision?  Is not all late binding, JIT binding?

  6. Bob says:

    "…Seattle rainy season…"

    Serious question; when is the non-rainy season and how long does it last? When I think of Seattle, I think of Bill Cosby and his joke about a Seatlle rain tan.

  7. Henri Hein says:

    Bob, the myth that it perpetually rains in Seattle is a viscious rumor perpetrated by a dedicated group of liars.  I suspect it is the natives, alarmed by large crowds of emigrants from California.  The truth is that Seattle does have a dry season, during which the sky turns blue and a great yellow orb can be seen, which other peoples call "the sun."  The exact timing of this season varies, of course, but it has been known to sometimes last a whole afternoon!

  8. Zooba says:

    British culture and Australian culture[1] in the one place… NICE! Do they sell Driza-bones over there or should I bring a few when I fly over (for um… personal use… not because Seattle is clearly a place where people would snap them up an inflated rates…)?

    It is difficult to find a DrizaBone in Seattle, but it is very easy to find a Filson; the Filson flagship store has been in Seattle for over a hundred years now. — Eric


    1: Yes, we consider the Driza-bone (and the Akubra hat) "culture". This is why everywhere else in the world considers us an uncultured rabble 🙂

  9. cheong00 says:

    Informative article, especially for the part that the dusters have straps to attach the coat bottom to my legs.

    I think that'd be helpful and will try to find one that have them the next time I want to get a coat.

  10. Stefan says:

    I have the same problem when I wear an Ivy League hat, and people say "Nice Newsboy!"

  11. voo says:

    Since clothes are things I wear to avoid commotion and keep me reasonably warm – am I allowed to call both just coat?

  12. Josh Einstein says:

    He was a cop, and good at his job. But he committed the ultimate sin and testified against other cops gone bad. Cops that tried to kill him but got the woman he loved instead. Framed for murder, now he prowls the badlands. An outlaw hunting outlaws. A bounty hunter. A renegade.

    Bow dow badala bow. Badabada dow dow bow.

  13. IT girl says:

    I want to see a picture of you in that duster! 😉

  14. Igby Largeman says:

    Eric, you may be interested to know that they were orginally crafted from discarded sailing ship sails. In Australia "driza-bone" is pretty much synonymous with oilskin coat. For Pacific Northwesterners, there's a store in Salem that sells them, as well as Akubra hats. I forget the name of it, but Salem isn't very big.

  15. phoog says:

    My goodness, having read this three days ago, I just now realized the meaning of "Driza-Bone"!

  16. Laci says:

    Hey, nice duster!

  17. Teri says:

    Living in Arizona, where both trenchcoats and dusters are rare, but encountering the latter in several books (including the Harry Dresden novels) your lucid explanation is appreciated! Especially liked the bit on the origin of the phrase trench coat.

Skip to main content