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What is an Antimacassar?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated Feb 24, 2024
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Sometimes spelled as “antimacasser”, the antimacassar is a cloth device that serves the purpose of protecting furniture upholstery. Often, the antimacassar is associated with the Victorian or Edwardian era, when the typical furniture and room decorating were very formal. While the use of antimacassars has declined over the years, many people still enjoy using these decorative protectors in formal living rooms.

The antimacassar is often made of lace and is usually referred to as a doily. Doilies, in addition to adding a decorative touch to a room, once served a very important purpose. During the early years of the 19th century, the use of macassar oil as a means of grooming the hair became very common. Unfortunately, the oil would leave a stain when coming into contact with the fabric upholstery of the era. In order to minimize the stains on furniture, the antimacassar would be strategically placed on the backs of chairs, sofas, and fainting couches, making it possible for a guest to rest his or her head without leaving a stain. In like manner, the antimacassar would also appear on the arms of furniture.

The use of the antimacassar was not limited to the home. Public conveyance also made good use of this protective device. Trains and carriages of the day often employed the antimacassar as a way to protect the seating from oil stains from hair products. Usually, the material used for these types of antimacassar applications was made of material that was easily washed, and also relatively inexpensive. This made cleaning and replacement easy to accomplish, and would go a long way in keeping the seating area clean and inviting.

While an antimacassar may be a simple rectangle of cloth, they often are created with an intricate knitted or crocheted design. Lace patterns are common for more formal examples of the antimacassar, and since the latter part of the 19th century tend to be composed of wool or silk fiber. Even though day to day use of the antimacassar has declined a great deal, many people still enjoy using this decorative device as a means of adding seasonal or holiday touches to a room.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including WiseGeek, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
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Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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