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The Full Dress Protector - From The American Perspective

Updated: Feb 28, 2019

For as many pure white shirts and collars that have ever been made, there are even more ways to soil them. The eternal trial of the white garment wearer is, and always has been, how to get from Point A to Point B in a pristine, unstained state.

One such invention which hoped to help achieve this was the Full Dress Protector - also known as the Dress Shirt Protector, the Dress Shirt Shield, Dress Bosom Shield, Evening Dress Protector, Muffler, Oxford Muffler and so on. Product names varied greatly, due in part to business rivalry, but they could all be annexed under the general family umbrella of "Full Dress Protectors". While mostly men wore them, they were also made and marketed to ladies. These garments were at the height of their popularity between the mid 1800's until about 1920.

Evening Star, Washington, 2nd December, 1893.

As an adaptation to Mufflers and Scarves, the Full Dress Protector (FDP) was a much more structured, shapely accessory. It was designed to go high around the neck, over the clavicle and low down the front of the wearer. The aim was to cover as much of the collar and front torso as much as possible right down to the lower waist in the areas that the jacket/tuxedo/vest/overcoat/etc did not. This helped protect the exposed white collar, shirt and vest areas of the wearer from atmospheric dust/pollution, rain, snow, splash, falling cigar and cigarette ash and so on. The quilt padded version provided a degree of warmth also.

While the FDP had a practical purpose, they also became a fashionable item in their own right - designs changed seasonally from year to year to keep up with the trends at the time. Various designs were engineered which saw the FDP either cross at the centre-front - known as "shawl style" and "muffler", sit somewhat flat on the shoulder and parallel-ish at the centre-front - often referred to as the "collared style" and any number of combinations of the above.

Sears, Roebuck & Co., Catalogue No.112, 1902.

Style Magazine, 1911.

Eaton's Spring and Summer Catalogue 1904. E6-254 combination shawl style with attached collar..

Eaton's Fall and Winter Catalogue No. 92, 1909.

Eaton's Spring and Summer Catalogue No. 80, 1907

While they were worn both in day time and night time, formal evening events were the only occasions that restrictions were placed on what type and colour of FDP was to be worn. Men's Evening Dress, both black and white tie, usually demanded black FDP's. It should be noted that they also came in an astonishing variety of colours other than black.

The collared bib design was an impressive hit on the market in the late 1800's. Rather than the usual sloping shoulders of the shawl style cut, this design allowed the FDP to sit flatter and closer on the shoulder without the rising shoulder slope that the shawl style designs made.

Collared "Chinoiserie" Style Full Dress Protector

Inter-Ocean, Chicago, 17th December, 1899

Various clothing store listings have described the neck area of FDP's as "collared", "plain", "pleated", "gathered" and "darted".

New York Tribune, 10th December, 1904.

FDP's were often worn sandwiched between the wearer's jacket/tuxedo coat/suit coat/etc and the overcoat/cape/etc. At the very least, they were worn under garments regarded as "Outer Garments" and not over them.

Duluth Evening Herald, December 22nd, 1904.

Simpson's Christmas Catalogue, 1906.

"The Fitclose" Full Dress Protector, Sword Neckwear. Men's Wear Review Catalogue, July - December 1911.

Contrary to many existing comments about this garment, the FDP was neither always black nor always white. Some sources also state that the FDP was always lined with quilt padding, but this is also incorrect. While the benefits of padded linings are ideal for cold evening weather, it was just one variation in the total scheme.

A Blue and White Stripe Muffler. 'Dry Goods Review', Toronto 1899

FDP's came in an astonishing variety of fabrics. The international market influenced the fabric selection as much as any fabrics woven on the mainland USA. The range of weaves available from various makers was quite broad - Black Silk Faille, Black Moire, Baratheas, Satin, Peau De Soies, Peau de Crepe, Syria Silk, Grosgrain Silk, Flat Silk and Knitted Silk just to name a mere few. FDP's were sometimes embroidered with bead work, stitching, monograms and other fancy decorations.

"The Fitclose" Full Dress Protector, Sword Neckwear. Men's Wear Review Catalogue, July - December 1911.

Advertisement. Bryan Morning Eagle, 19th December, 1905.
The San Francisco Call, 10th December, 1905.

Fabric colours varied greatly. Black, Black Figured Silks, White, Pearl, Polka Dots, Plain Cords, Fancy Patterns and Colors were just a handful of descriptors. One particular FDP in 1915 was black on one side and white on the other - the advert describing that the garment could be worn either way. In 1889, The Indianapolis Journal reprinted an observation column which described a collared FDP cut from "a pale, almost baby blue satin". Interestingly, the article notes the design in good detail even saying "it bore the monogram of the wearer on the bosom".

The Indianapolis Journal, 3rd January, 1889.

Eaton's Fall and Winter Catalogue 1901-1902. Oxford Mufflers in Polka Dots, Stripes, Plain Cords and Fancy Patterns.

The Evening World, New York, 10th December, 1908.

FDP's were multi-seasonal. Winter offerings often consisted of, but weren't limited to, "warm" fabrics and quilted linings. While warmer seasons saw FDP's offered in lighter fabrics and sometimes even without linings at all. A "fancy lining" option was offered by at least one clothing store.

Evening World, New York, 17th December, 1908.

FDP's wouldn't be truly Victorian without at least some rigid dress codes following them, of course. 1800 & early 1900 articles pertaining to the rules of Evening Formal Dress - "well past 6pm" - almost always mentioned "Mufflers" and "Full Dress Protectors" as essentials. While I'm sure the young gents loved to shock and disgust with theirs, some guidelines were repeated in Men's Wear editorials across many publications. In a 1900 article titled "Hard And Fast Rules Laid Down For Men's Evening Dress", discerning gents were warned "...the highly colored affairs are not considered in good form." This is further testament to the wide variety of FDP's offered at the time.

The Honolulu Republican, Hawaiian Islands, 16th December, 1900.

So, why then are the bulk of remaining vintage FDP's mostly the heavy padded quilt types? The answer may be as simple as the fact that it was these heavily structured FDP's that lasted the distance. Without question, lined, structured garments are sartorial marathon runners. Other reasons may be that other versions just weren't as popular, or perhaps we just don't recognise these non-padded, non-black FDP's for what they really are? Armed with all this new information, it's time to open those camphor chests and reassess those freaky head-scratching vintage garments that baffle us.

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RJW Shirts
Feb 27, 2019

Hi Julian. Wix Blogs don't allow direct responses to comments for some reason - but I hope you get this message.

Here's an example of how a White Tie ensemble would be layered with an FDP: Shirt, Collar & Bow Tie - Vest - Evening Tailcoat - Full Dress Protector - Overgarment (such as cape, great coat, Macintosh, etc.)

So, the FDP is usually over the outergarments, but under the overgarments.


Feb 27, 2019

Excellent Article, Would these have been worn over or under a tailcoat for full evening dress? Would they be removed along with one's overcoat?


Jan 07, 2019

A fascinating and insightful read. I can imagine these mufflers in exquisite Japanese textiles with personal detailing.

An opportunity for men to add an individual flourish of colour or texture.

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