Not long ago this accessory was an essential element of any fashionista’s wardrobe but nowadays you can hardly see it anywhere except podiums and museums. Does everyone today know what a muff is?
Dictionaries provide a rather meager definition of this item – “a hollow cylinder of fur or warm cloth where you can hide your hands through the side holes”. But if we could ask the contemporaries of our grandmothers, we would hear that a muff or a little muff, as it was gently called at all times, was almost the main suit element of any woman not indifferent to beautiful things and admiring glances.
Of course, linguists and historians do not tell lies: indeed, a muff is merely a cloth strip, rolled and sewed along the edge. But should you open a fashion magazine of a century ago, you will be amazed by the variety of models of this fashion accessory.
European fashion of the XVIth century enjoined to attach wide mouths to the dress sleeves. In Venice famous not only for its architecture but also for its climate that one could hardly call hospitable, ladies when walking along the embankment had to hide their hands inside these mouths and keep them together to protect them from cold weather. It remains unknown who of the local tailors had an inspiration to sew a cloth strip and to dangle it on the lace, but this new invention became extremely popular both among men and women.
To perform its main function that was to warm hands a muff was sewed with fur underneath but is a way you could see it along the edges, as the admiring glances gave fashionistas as much delight as the possession the thing per se.
The right side of cloth was decorated with embroidery and lace. Aristocrats ordered muffs for every suit; they were made of the same cloth and in the same style as the apparel itself. There were even mourning muffs made of black crepe.
Ordinary citizens who had no money to buy a fur accessory wore velvet muffs thickened with fur, feather or tow. The right side was decorated with ribbon rosettes made as rich as possible – with gold and silver threads, pearl, precious gems. In such a manner women could show their wealth, literally holding it just before them.
It was quite the thing among men to wear a big muff, attached to the waist – a belt made of silk lacing was threaded through golden or silver ring sewn in the center and then fastened on the left side.
At the same time, male accessories differed nothing from the female ones in terms of size or restraint, being decorated with ribbons and laces in a similar abundant manner. Muffs of exotic animals’ skins such as panthers’ and tigers’ were also popular for a short period of time.
In Russia where a great mass of furs made fur more available, muff owners tried to decorate it as intricately as possible using various embroidery, lacing, gems, and paillettes. The side exposed and the side adjoined to the body has always differed – for the reverse side less attractive parts of the animal skin were used when the edges were decorated with the fur of even better quality. Despite relative cheapness of for instance squirrel or sheepskin, muffs were not very popular among low-class people as they felt more comfortable to hide their hands inside the sleeves or to wear more practical mittens.
Changeable and capricious, the fashion of the XVIIIth century made a muff essential for women – dress sleeves would cover only one third of the arm, and neither mantillas nor small mittens could warm them. Pompous muffs made of bird feathers, for instance, ostrich or swan ones became popular in Europe. As it was problematic to decorate such a muff with embroidery, delicate medallions with gallant scenes were placed on the right side of it.
In the end of the century muffs could be really enormous – being placed at breast height they could go down to the knees. High pile furs which enlarged such a muff even more were especially preferable. Women, men and children would were them whenever possible even at home. You can see lots of caricatures of the passion that ended as suddenly as it had started in the newspapers and magazines of the time.
As a male suit became more and more formal, a muff was gradually pushed out of the gentlemen’s wardrobe and became a solely female accessory.
The busy pace of life nowadays makes us choose practical gloves and mittens which you can put on while running and quickly hide in your pocket when they are not necessary. Sometimes you can see bright synthetic muffs on the shelves as well as to find instructions on this nice thing in sewing and handcraft magazines for women. Try to vary your winter wardrobe with this extravagant detail and you will have one more little but nice reason to greet the cold weather with joy.
For further information on how to clean fur please read our article “Fur care and storage tips” or “Fur – coats and furs dry cleaning” section.
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