The Full Dress Protector - From The American Perspective
Updated: Feb 27, 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.
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.
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
Various clothing store listings have described the neck area of FDP's as "collared", "plain", "pleated", "gathered" and "darted".
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.
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.
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.
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".
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.
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.
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.