The most-commented-on part of our recent Keeping Warm post was the lady's muff. I've always liked muffs, too. Most of the heroines in my books appear with a muff on their arm at one time or another. Not only are muffs warm and fashionable, but they can also be full of sexual innuendo, especially the fur ones.
Maybe Victorians determinedly ignored this particular element of muffs, but earlier ladies (and gentlemen) were well aware of their significance as a hot accessory. Writing in 1575, William Harrison noted that "Women's Buskes, Muffs, Fans, Perewigs, and Bodkins were first devised & used in Italy by Curtezans...the best sort of gallant ornament."
I'm not sure the elegant 18th c. Virginian lady from Colonial Williamsburg, upper left, is thinking of her muff as a courtesan's ornament. For her, it's mainly about keeping her hands warm. These particular muffs were adaptable to different outfits by changing the outer slip-cover, which tied on - you can see the ribbon-drawstring at the opening. But even an elegant muff like this one could hide an ominous secret inside. Check out these muff pistols that were popular with 18th c. ladies for self-defense, as well as for brandishing in the face of a faithless lover.
By 1807, upper right, fashionable muffs have grown considerably. From Le Beau Monde, this outsized muff is covered with snow-white swan's down, the perfect counterpart for the spring walking dress.
The 1838 carriage dress, lower left, from The World of Fashion, featured a large sable muff. If this lady was going out riding on a very cold day, she might first tuck one of these earthenware muff warmers inside. A sable muff showed that the wearer not only possessed excellent taste, but also an indulgent gentleman willing to pick up the tab for such an expensive accessory. A sable muff must have been the status handbag of its day.
Bu there have been times when gentlemen favored extravagant muffs as well. The detail, lower right, from a 1689 French engraving (copyright the Trustees of the British Museum) shows the exiled English King James II and his gentlemen at the French court. Many of the men wear fur muffs tied with sashes around their waists (which reminds me of the modern handwarmers worn by NFL quarterbacks. For TNHG, connections are everywhere. *g*)
Not that everyone approved. Sniffed the Duchess of Newcastle, such a style wasn't "seemly...for how can a man Guide his Horse, or Use his Sword, when his Hands are in a Muff?"