Sunday, January 17, 2010

Keeping Warm: More about Muffs

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Susan reports:

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?"

Which is probably the reason why muffs won't make a comeback today. How could a modern lady text, or drive, or juggle her coffee-cup, her keys, and her PDA (let alone use her sword) if she had her hands tucked inside a muff?  


Susan Higginbotham said...

Fascinating! Personally, I would love to own a muff.

Vanessa Kelly said...

Susan, I had one of those little white rabbit muffs when I was a girl, too!

That link on pistols was fascinating. I think I remember a scene in the Grand Sophy, where Sophy is confronting a money lender. I'm pretty sure she pulls a pistol out of her muff.

And that sable muff is divine!

caro-chan said...

Very interesting post! I have an antique muff in near perfect condition that I've been dying to use this winter, reading this post, about muff guns and innuendos has made me really want to use it!

Great blog btw! I found out about it sometime last week and I've been reading through it ever since!

nightsmusic said...

Not sure I'd like to carry such a large muff around as some of them seem, but I do like them.

Makes it a bit difficult to drive though, yes. ;-)

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Susan, I'd like to have a muff, too. I'd think it would give one the same kind of elegant presence as a big hat. *g* And welcome to the TNHG!

Vanessa, I thought the link to the muff-pistols was pretty cool, too (though maybe not in those snow-white little girl muffs.) I particularly liked the advice about how not to get it tangled in lining, which would kind of ruin the effect. The internet really is a rabbit hole -- tumble into it, and you never know what you'll find.

Caro-chan, welcome to you, too. I'm glad you found us. And you know, if I had an antique muff, I'd use it, too. At least once in a while!

Theo, when I looked at the picture of the really big white muff, all I could think was the gentleman complaining about how much it would shed on his dark coat. *g*

And my guess would be that the lady who carries a sable muff doesn't Drive, but is Driven.

ILoveVersailles said...

Oh I'd love to have a muff, too! I like the one the first lady has on.

Ms.Persimmon said...

This blog is a treat! I've just found it, & now have lots of enjoyable catching up reading to do.

I have this half-memory of reading about ladies carrying lap dogs inside their large muffs. Sorry I don't remember when or why, but seeing these pictures reminded me. Perhaps you know..?

Anonymous said...

Haha. This is hilarious (and educational).

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