I wanted to write this blog last week when the blizzards were howling, but I couldn’t get across the back garden to my studio and my print collection. Now the need for a muff has reduced I’ve managed to wade across and retrieve the volume covering 1795-1805. I found it was absolutely stuffed with illustrations of muffs.
For the early history of muffs, and the origin of the name, I can’t do better than refer you to this interesting post by The Costume Historian (snufskins anyone?). During the 17th and 18th century men used muffs too (Samuel Pepys borrowed his wife’s last-season muff and had to buy her a new one) but by the end of that period they were coming to be seen as effeminate and positively French (Horrors!).
Muffs could be made of fur, swansdown or padded fabrics, although all the ones in the prints in my collection look like either fur or the skin of very long-haired sheep, with the occasional one that might be feather. Infuriatingly, even when I have the description with the image they don’t describe the muff. Even if lined with silk and padded with down these vast muffs must have weighed a great deal and it is difficult to see how one could have put both hands into the biggest ones without your elbows sticking out like jug handles. There would certainly be room inside for other things – it was even possible to buy muff pistols, although confronted by a foot-pad it might have been more effective simply to smother him with the muff itself. In one or two images you can see that they are being held by the rim – the idea of a loop handle or strings around the neck doesn’t seem to come in until they reduced greatly in size with the Victorians.
The image at the top of this post is from Heideloff’s The Gallery of Fashion for February 1799 and show large, long-haired fur muffs, the brown one with walking dress and white one used inside. This next plate is from Phillip’s Fashions of London and Paris (February 1800) and shows two Full Dresses, one accessorized by a vast fluffy white muff. Presumably this was simply carried for effect – or would cold rooms have made it necessary?
I have a number of plates from The Lady’s Monthly Museum which are notable for their rather plain ladies and decided lack of elegance! Here is a pair of Morning Dresses for February 1800.
And for December that year two more Morning Dresses with very shaggy muffs. In the descriptions details right down to stockings are described – but not the muffs.
For March 1801 The Lady’s Monthly Museum has a charming pair of Morning Dresses with a poodle who seems to think the large white muff might come from a relative of his and an Afternoon Dress with the muff discarded on the sofa while the very nattily-dressed gentleman makes intense eye-contact.
For February 1802 here are two ladies from a very lovely Gallery of Fashion plate with below it Morning Dresses from the much less exclusive Lady’s Monthly Museum.
For March 1805 The Lady’s Magazine has a London Walking Dress with a very curly muff and a feather to match and The Ladies’ Monthly Museum a figure in Full Dress with a positively enormous white muff.
And finally, here is a rare plate from Le Miroir de la Mode by the mysterious Madame Lanchester. I blogged about her here with some more examples from my collection. In this example of a Walking Dress from January 1803 the muff is so large that it seems almost as long as the wearer’s legs!