Muffology: the language of Muffs, one of the great forgotten accessories in the story of Fashion.

Muffs of the moment: fox fur fashion, February 2016, illustration by Mark Karl Hughes.

The muff is a cylindrical accessory, usually furred, into which the wearer's hands are placed on either side and has been part of fashion history for over 400 years.

•       These are traditionally women's accessories but men have both worn and carried muffs, most recently the late Sir Winston Churchill, one of Britain's greatest statesmen.

•        Antoine Furetiere in his Dictionnaire universel, 1690, defined a muff as a fur object, "originally used only by women; at present, however, men also carry them.

•        In English, muffs they were historically known as snuffkin, skimskyn, and snoskyn.

•        The first snuffkin was mentioned in 1483 according to Francis Weiss, in "Furred Serpents, Snuffskins and Stomachers," Costume (1973).

•        Muffs are called manchon in French, mouffe in Flemish, and manicone in Italian.

•       In 1583 a skinner, one Adam Blande, trimmed a velvet snuffkin with five "genette skins," which will have been imported from Italy via Africa and have been the ultimate in luxury.

•       The muff continued as an accessory, particularly in fur or feather, with beautiful fabric combinations, until a hundred years ago, and WWI. After that, and the changes in women’s lives  they became less important, becoming a quaint hangover as woman moved on, streamlined, working, independent; not wanting to dress like her great-grandmother.

•       ‘Muff’ continues however, and magnificently as slang from a woman’s private parts and has a fabulous history, just like the accessory.

•       The first recorded evidence as such, according to lexicographer Jonathon Green is in Thomas Middleton’s Blurt, Master Constable, 1601 – 2. … ‘Have your dog … dance along by you, your embroidered muff before you on your ravishing hands,  but take heed who thrusts his fingers into your fur.’ 

•       It is also used to describe the amateur, to describe incompetence, a bungler in the nineteenth century.

For its November 1, 1916 issue, Vogue asked ‘What’s in a Muff?’, illustrated by Benito, written by Roger Boutet de Monvel, the great aesthete.

‘I came into the world almost five hundred years ago and Venice was my native land. Ah, what a delightful muff I was then, made after the Italian fashion, of a single band of brocade, or silk and lined with fine fur, rounded out to cylindrical form. And my two ends were fastened over at varying widths with buttons of oriental crystal, pearls or gold…

‘And in spite of everything, I have remained the Muff, the same immortal Muff, which gives, from the first appearance on the boulevards, so intimate and delightful a feeling to all who comprehend the most delicate shades of those graces which every woman – be she coquette or ingenue – knows how to display.’

‘I want a muff, please:’ speculation and reality 1908
The earliest image in England is from 1567 and depicts 'L'Angloyse', an English woman of fashion wtih a snuffking hanging from her chicly small waist in the anthropological Receuil de la diversite des habits.
In artist Wenceslaus Hollar's Winter, 1641-1644, an English lady of fashion walks masked and incognito, carrying a sable or marten muff as befitted her rank; it is decorated with a ribbon to tie at the waist.
Object of desire: Exquisite detailing of the accessories belonging to a woman of fashion. 1642-1647, lovingly and meticulously by Wenceslaus Hollar. This was, I believe, a private work, a still life done for his own edification initially. Lace, gloves, a mask, feathred aigrette and muffs – this was luxury then as it would be now, but it is touched with an element of sexual fetish and the frisson of desire for fashion. Etching, collection the John Soane Museum, London.
Jacob van Oost the Elder, Portrait of a Boy aged 11, 1650, carrying a sable muff and wearing matching sable trimmed cap. Sables were – and still are – the ultimate fur status symbol.
In Mundus Muliebris or The Ladies Dressing-Room Unlock’d of 1690s, the lady has "three Muffs of Sable, Ermine, Grey (squirrel,)” from the most expensive to a cheaper but pretty fur. The fashion plate by R. Bonnart, 1670s, featuring the Landrave of Hesse striking a pose in fontange with beribboned muff. French fashion plates were an effective form of fashion communication from the centre of fashion – Versailles. With the founding of the Hudson's Bay Company in 1670 a constant supply of furs reached a burgeoning middle-class consumer base.
A Man of Quality at the court of Louis XIV carrying a fur muff as his premier accessory. Engraving by Jean de St. Jean, 1693. Antoine Furetiere in his Dictionnaire universel, 1690, defined a muff as a fur object, "originally used only by women; at present, however, men also carry them. The finest muffs are of marten, the less expensive ones of squirrel. The muffs for horsemen are of otter or tiger."
Muffia - JEAN DE LA RIVE holding what may be a lynxskin muff for posterity, c. 1758, Jean-Étienne Liotard (1702-1789). The rococo period saw delicate muffs in sable, skunk, squirrel, and sea otter, small and barrel-shaped or large and baglike; in 1765 William Cole noted with disapproval that in Paris "all the world got into Muffs, some ridiculously large and unwieldy."
Etiquette and decorum, greeting a lady of fashion, the man on the right with large muff suspended from his waist, she carrying one and her black page holding her train, from Mercure de France, March 1729. Collection British Museum.
1786, Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, portrait of Madame Mole Raymond 1786, carrying a large fur muff to set off her robe anglaise. The fashion magazine Gallerie des modes et costumes français showed large muffs worn by men and women of fashion in the 1780s, one style, worn to the opera, 1784, called "d'agitation momentanee."
1785, equally likely to cause agitation is Thomas Gainsborough's portrait of the actress Mrs. Siddons in the National Gallery in London. She is holding a large fox muff, matching the trim of her silk mantle. As a supporter of Charles James Fox, Siddons is showing her political affiliations with a fox fur accessory, as well as being fashionable. Gainsborough did ask in frustration ‘Is there no end to her nose?’ when painting this.
Portrait of former actress Elizabeth Farren, Countess of Derby, 1790, by Sir Thomas Lawrence. She wears a hooded pelisse trimmed with fur, a tippet and carries a muff I think all made from sea otter although it is uncertain. See the ivory satin lining matching the entire ensemble.
‘Transparent Pieces’ (1799), possibly by Gillray, etching and aquatint.
For ladies of fashion, dressed in semi-transparent cottons, carrying bearskin muffs to keep their hands warm as they drift, frozen, in in Neoclassical style.
What the Dickens? By the 1820s and the Romantic period, faux medieval muffs in ermine or the more luxurious chinchilla skins were imported from Chile and Peru. This print is called ‘Winter fashions from Nov 1833 - April 1834,’ by B. Read, Pall Mall, St James's. Slowly the fur coat began to replace the muff as statement fur.
Muffs enjoyed revivals in the early twentieth century, when Revillon stocked over a million muffs in their shops and Vogue wrote of chinchilla, sable, leopard, mole, ocelot, and monkey muffs .‘There is an elegant little animal (the chinchilla) whose coat furnishes us with a lovely fur, the softest and most delicate in existence, and the most fashionable to date,’ says Richard Davey, Fur and Furbearing Animals (1895). Here, a Paquin chinchilla and lace stole and muff, Les Modes Christmas,1908
Fin de siecle, portrait of Madame Louise Chéruit (1898) by Paul César Helleu

Mme Chéruit was one of the first women couturieres in 1906 and her work was exceptional; here she is with what may be a sea otter muff as an accessory. The buliding was later taken over by Elsa Schiaparelli in 1934. More importantly, the depredations of the fur trade satisfying consumer demand led to the near extinction of sea otters by 1895, according to Richard Davey’s book for The International Fur Store in London’s Regent Street.
'Exiting the couture atelier, mannequins as distinguished as women of the world.’ Maison Doucet house models with statement accessories as news story and satire: L'Illustration, 27 Dec. 1913.
1912, the Storyville red light district down in New Orleans, a young Madame is photographed by E J. Bellocq as part of his famous series on brothels and prostitutes of New Orleans. The boa and muff is a statement ensemble in less expensive lambskin. In 1895, 16,995 Mongolian lambskins were sold at the Hudson’s Bay Company in London. Of course furs were status, but so were the accessories as a concept, here in lambskin.
Statement dressing: Henrietta Louise Cromwell Brooks first wife General Douglas MacArthur. 1911, Washington, with fox muff. ‘ A rare Siberian silver fox-skin was sold furrier P.M. Grunwaldt of Paris at the record price of £580 at Messrs. Lampson and Co’s fur sale last week,’ reads one newspaper clipping,’ from March 26th 1900.
Belle Epoque:The Avenue du Bois du Boulogne
Photographed by Jean-Henri Lartigue in January 1911.

To give a sense of cost, furrier Grunwaldt’s ‘Theatre of Dress’ contribution at ‘the Daily Mirror Fair of Fashions in the Royal Horticultural Hall in Westminster’in June 1909 was a mannequin wearing a sable coat, stole and muff worth ‘at least £3,000.’

From Russia with Love: Vivien Leigh as Annain Anna Karenina, costume designer Cecil Beaton, 1948.
Left, Occupation style, Paris, 1942 and the muff is as in style for Parisiennes as it was 200 years earlier. Lucien Lelong tailleur illustrated by Pierre Louchel, pen and ink.

Retro, right, the film Anna Karenina as well as Christian Dior’s influence in that wasp waist and fox trimmed tailleur with muff, for A/W 1948, Gerd Grimm. Pen and ink.

The fur stole, particularly mink or fox replaced the muff as accessory in the late 1940s, when muffs worn by Hollywood stars inevitably belonged to historic stories. The fur coat, again, mink in particular, was the fashionable fur.
Belle Epoque-meets-Georges Lepape c. 1914, Paris.

What’s in a Muff?’
‘And in spite of everything, I have remained the Muff, the same immortal Muff, which gives, from the first appearance on the boulevards, so intimate and delightful a feeling to all who comprehend the most delicate shades of those graces which every woman – be she coquette or ingenue – knows how to display.’ Roger de Boutet de Monvel, Vogue, November 1, 1916.

Mrs Miniver

‘Miniver’ has all the gorgeous allusions to the age of chivalry, the medieval past and the courts of the Plantagenets and Valois. Fur in fashion repeats itself over and over again, from the white fox lining the robes of ‘Salome’ in the Byzantine Ravenna Mosaics to the mink that trimmed the robes of Henry VIII.

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