Evasion of the acquired immune response in African trypanosomes is principally mediated by antigenic variation, the sequential expression of distinct variant surface glycoproteins (VSGs) at extremely high density on the cell surface. Sequence diversity between VSGs facilitates escape of a subpopulation of trypanosomes from antibody-mediated killing. Significant advances have increased understanding of the mechanisms underpinning synthesis and maintenance of the VSG coat. In this review, we discuss the biosynthesis, trafficking, and turnover of VSG, emphasising those unusual mechanisms that act to maintain coat integrity and to protect against immunological attack. We also highlight new findings that suggest the presence of unique or highly divergent proteins that may offer therapeutic opportunities, as well as considering aspects of VSG biology that remain to be fully explored.