Muffs - A Fashion Always in Vogue
A fur muff is one of the delights of existence. A woman often has cold hands, and a muff will save her positive suffering. And since the study of hygiene has increased our medical knowledge, we are aware of the dangers of cold extremities. Chilly hands and feet are apt to show a weak heart and a poor circulation. At any rate, they prove a want of vital power, and of that perfect health which is a modern desideratum. To warm one's freezing fingers at the fire may mean chilblains, or, at the best, only a moment's alleviation. A soft nest for one's hands is a far better arrangement. So to every woman, whether rich or poor, a good muff has become a necessity.
But a muff is a thing that must be chosen with infinite discretion. It takes, as it were, an active part in one's toilette, and should not only be in keeping with one's means, but also with one's way of life and personal appearance.
A stout woman should, on no account, select the same style of muff as would suit her slender and graceful sister. She must never use a big pillow of a muff, made of a fluffy, long-haired fur, such as skunk, bear, and opossum. As a rule, she will look her best with a moderate-sized muff of the square shape in one of the smooth, silky furs, such as sable, mink, or sealskin, or - if economy is necessary - in the ever-useful musquash.
A pretty woman can wear well-nigh everything, but even she should avoid what is merely fantastic. The huge muffs that have been used in recent winters are in nine cases out of ten grotesque. When a petite person of dainty proportions carries a muff the size of a bed-pillow the effect is nothing short of ludicrous. Even in the matter of her muff a woman should cultivate that triple blessing - a sense of proportion.
Then complexion has a word to say on the subject. A muff does not come near the face, like a stole or a boa, but, all the same, it counts for much in one's costume. As we know, many women treat a muff like a fan; they wave it about and put it against their faces in a distinctly fascinating fashion. Hence the fur used ought to suit the tone of one's complexion. Ermine and chinchilla have great value and beauty, but they only look their best with a perfect complexion ; and white fox - which has the advantage of cheapness - only looks well when worn by a mere girl or else by a woman whose blonde or brunette tints are of great clearness and brilliancy. As a rule, dark, soft, rich-tinted furs are most effective in increasing a woman's beauty and general attractiveness. If economy is an object - as it is to most of us - we must bear in mind that a muff is subject to usage more or less rough. It is thrown down, is at times sat upon, or falls upon the ground. Now and then it has an unlucky fall on the ice or out of a motor. Hence the fur of which it is made ought to be durable, and to have weather-resisting qualities.
When one comes to think of it, we treat our muffs in rather an unfair manner. Most of us are ill-provided with pockets, and a small handbag is by no means a roomy receptacle. So we are apt to make our muffs do double duty ; they keep our hands warm and also carry small articles. In a large, flat muff a small silk pocket can be easily introduced. This can be fastened down by a button, and makes a safe place for a purse, a latchkey, or a handkerchief. I have seen a bag and muff in one - a really clever contrivance.
Certain furs are well suited to the making of muffs, and among the most durable are mink, bear, beaver, baum-marten, skunk, fisher, sealskin, and musquash.
Mink, a species of marten, is dark and soft, and ranks with bear and beaver as one of the best-wearing furs in existence. A mink muff might be secured for from £15 to £10. At. the time of writing skunk has fallen in price, and a fair-sized muff would cost about £10. This fur looks well, wears well, and has immense durability.
Bearskins seem to wear for ever, and a black bearskin muff makes a sound investment. A good bearskin is worth about £8 ; and a big muff, like a soft, black pillow, is often made of two cub skins of great beauty.
The writer recently saw a muff of white bearskin, which was somewhat of a curiosity.
Persian lamb is another fur that lasts well, but is black and hard, and, to my mind, by no means decorative.
Muffs that are both inexpensive and of good appearance can be made of dyed fox, which has the dark colour and fluffy texture so highly desirable. But some dislike dyed fur, since the dye is apt to come off on one's hands, or on white lace or. a delicate costume.
Now my readers shall be let into a secret. The dyeing process has been much improved, and if the best white fox is well dyed, the colour will not come off, and the fur will prove most satisfactory. But it has one drawback - it is rather more expensive than other varieties. The usual black fox that one sees is the American red fox dyed for the purpose.
Moleskin is a favourite fur, being soft and downy, and of a charming shade of colour, but it is by no means durable. Hence, although fairly cheap, it cannot be described as a good purchase.
Chinchilla has reached a prohibitive price, and is "ruinous" also on account of its delicacy.
A muff of Russian sable may cost anything from £100 to £400 ; and one of a single silver fox skin would cost from £150 to £350.
A blue fox muff can be obtained for about £40. But this latter fur, although pretty, cannot be described as durable.
In Bond Street I once watched some smart women with muffs, and took note of the way in which they carried these accessories. Out of ten, I counted five who held their muffs in front of them in the way in which a heavy parcel is carried; one held her muff and skirt with the same hand ; two kept rubbing their chilly noses with their muffs ; one swung hers in her hand as if it had been a toy ; and the tenth carried the precious bundle of skins like a true Parisian. At last England was vindicated. Then, alas ! I heard the lady speak : she talked German with a Viennese accent!
I often think that in addition to lessons in dancing and Court curtseys it would do us good to take some in walking, carrying a muff, and a parasol, and other such everyday occupations.
We modern folk are apt to think that living in this golden age we have a monopoly of all the good things of existence. Such is not the case. Fur, for example, was well known to the ancients. Charlemagne wore garments of fur suited to the seasons, and at the time of the Crusades the luxury of wearing fur was carried to a high point in Western Europe.
' Muffs existed in the so-called Dark Ages. A warm little satin nest, trimmed with fur, was known in Italy in the fifteenth century. And the noble ladies of Venice used to carry their tiny dogs in their muffs, much as our smart women do in these days.
In the reigns of Louis XIII. and Louis XIV. the muff fashion triumphed at Versailles. The fair ladies in their sedan chairs used to carry muffs when they went for an airing in the alleys of the Royal park, and no doubt made great play with these graceful accessories. Sable was a favourite fur of that period.
In those days muffs were used by men, and were carried by the king and his courtiers. This fashion, by the way, still prevails on the Continent, and the German Emperor and the aged Emperor of Austria carry large muffs when out shooting.
In the eighteenth century muffs had quite a history. At one time they were made of Angora goat's hair, were of immense size, and reached almost to. the ground ; but towards the reign of George III. they changed in style, were called "little barrels," and became smaller and simpler. Their use by men was continued.
Caraccioli, the Italian Ambassador to London, writes from Paris in 1768 : "Sledges are now the fashion, and people use muffs in winter for elegance as well as for need. The form varies continually. To-day men carry small muffs, lined with down and trimmed with black or grey satin."
Muffs appear constantly in pictures of the period. In a painting by Gainsborough of Mrs. Siddons, the great actress is shown holding a fur muff in her hands. Boucher's "Skater " carries a muff; and the beautiful portrait by Lawrence of Miss Farren represents the fair actress as swinging a large muff in her hand, much as do the women of the twentieth century. This Miss Farren became Countess of Derby in 1797.
The above facts show that muffs have been with us throughout long ages, and, as far as can be seen, they are likely to prove one of our deathless fashions, for they unite the graces of beauty and utility, they can be made to represent riches, they lend themselves well to artistic treatment, and - perhaps, best of all - they can be found to suit any purse and any predilections.
As already stated, muffs are now used in late summer and early autumn, as well as in the depths of winter. This article has dealt entirely with muffs of fur, but many charming creations are often produced in silk, satin, brocade, and chiffon.