Monday, May 17, 2010


The accessory known as the muff has gone in and out of fashion over the years. Here are 3 career women in Washington, D.C., in 1916 (1st image), 2 models from mid-century (2nd image), and a young Chris Quigley warming her hands with her sister in Hartford c. 1969 (3rd image)! Muffs (less fashionably known as "handwarmers") were usually made of a cylinder of fabric or fur with both ends open for inserting the hands. They first appeared in the 16th c., were used by both men and women in the 17th and 18th centuries - including Jane Austen (1775-1817), and became exclusive to women in the early 20th c. Muffs seem to have reduced in size over time, and "pillow-sized" muffs are discouraged for women both big and small. An article published in the 4th volume of Every Woman's Encyclopedia (London, 1910-1912) reads, "A fur muff is one of the delights of existence....A soft nest for one's hands...has become a necessity....Even in the matter of her muff a woman should cultivate...a sense of proportion." The author, the Hon. Mrs. Fitzroy Stewart, also recommends that the color of the muff should complement the complexion, that its fur should be durable and weather-resistant, and that it hide a small buttoned pocket. She finds mink, bear, beaver, skunk, muskrat, or sealskin ideal material for muffs. Lambskin is not decorative, moleskin and chinchilla are not durable, and sable is overpriced, but the process for dying fox has improved. If fur cannot be obtained, muffs made of silk, satin, brocade, and chiffon are "charming." See also the lady in the front row of this 1910 group portrait; this dashing Victorian with muff and fur (scroll down); an heiress photographed c. 1911 with fox furs and a muff that has a face, legs, and a tail; and the fashion faux pas of muff-equipped bridesmaids (scroll down).

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