Heating the castles and great halls of wealthy people in the seventeenth century was not easy, especially in the cooler countries in the north, such as England and Scotland. Stone walls and fireplaces in nearly every room could not keep rooms warm enough when the days grew cold. Though people had many layers of clothing to keep their bodies warm, their hands remained exposed and cold. The solution to the problem of cold hands, which seems to have gotten worse during the seventeenth century, when climatic change brought years of very cold winters, inspired the creation of the muff, an insulated tube of fabric or fur into which the hands could be tucked.
Though muffs served a practical purpose, they soon were turned into stylish accessories by those wealthy enough to afford them. Light muffs might be made of double layers of satin or velvet, stuffed to provide insulation. Fur soon became the preferred material for muffs. People choose the softest, finest fur for their muffs, which might be decorated with jewels or lace trim. King Louis XIV of France, who ruled from 1643 to 1715, had muffs made from the fur of tigers, panthers, otters, and beavers. Muffs could be fastened to a belt at the waist and secured by a loop of ribbon which hung about the neck.
Muffs continued to be used by both men and women through the eighteenth century. During the eighteenth century, muffs provided a portable home for carrying the small pets that became a brief fashion craze among the very wealthy. After the eighteenth century muffs became exclusively a woman's accessory and are still used for warmth to this day, although more rarely than gloves or mittens.
Bigelow, Marybelle S. Fashion in History: Apparel in the Western World. Minneapolis, MN: Burgess Publishing, 1970.
Cunnington, C. Willett, and Phillis Cunnington. Handbook of English Costume in the Seventeenth Century. Boston, MA: Plays, Inc., 1972.
Yarwood, Doreen. The Encyclopedia of World Costume. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1978.