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The Collaborative International Dictionary

Antimacassar \An`ti*ma*cas"sar\ ([a^]n`t[i^]*m[.a]*k[a^]s"s[~e]r), n. A cover for the back or arms of a chair or sofa, etc., to prevent them from wear or from being soiled by macassar or other oil from the hair.


n. A cover for the back or arms of a chair or sofa, originally to prevent them from being soiled by macassar oil.


n. a piece of ornamented cloth that protects the back of chair from hair oils


An antimacassar is a small cloth placed over the backs or arms of chairs, or the head or cushions of a sofa, to prevent soiling of the permanent fabric. The name also refers to the cloth flap 'collar' on a sailor's shirt or top, used to keep macassar oil off the uniform.

Macassar oil was an unguent for the hair commonly used in the early 19th century. The poet Byron called it "thine incomparable oil, Macassar." The fashion for oiled hair became so widespread in the Victorian and the Edwardian period that housewives began to cover the arms and backs of their chairs with washable cloths to preserve the fabric coverings from being soiled. Around 1850, these started to be known as antimacassars. They were also installed in theatres, from 1865.

They came to have elaborate patterns, often in matching sets for the various items of parlour furniture; they were either made at home using a variety of techniques such as crochet or tatting, or purchased. The original antimacassars were usually made of stiff white crochet-work, but in the third quarter of the 19th century they became simpler and softer, usually fabric embroidered with a simple pattern in wool or silk. Annie Chapman, the second canonical victim of Jack the Ripper, was said to have made antimacassars for a living shortly before she was murdered.

By the beginning of the 20th century, antimacassars had become so associated in people's minds with the Victorian period that the word briefly became a figurative term for it.

Antimacassars are also used on the seat headrests of commercial passenger transport vehicles, such as trains, buses and especially aircraft to extend the life of fabrics.

Usage examples of "antimacassar".

Hung upon its back was an antimacassar, worked aesthetically in crewels.

The next instant the seat of the chair rose up audibly to its normal level, and the antimacassar fell out into its usual folds, still preserving, however, the traces of its previous wrinkles.

I was a little vexed at everybody subsequently laughing at some joke which they did not explain, and it was only on going to bed I discovered I must have been walking about all the evening with an antimacassar on one button of my coat-tails.

Andy wondered whether they were all caught under the sway of some long gone but powerful personality, perhaps the very one who had caused antimacassar to be piled upon antimacassar.

Rose yawned, talked fitfully about the gayeties of the coming week, worked half a leaf on an antimacassar, and sang three or four silly little coquettish songs which somehow jarred on every one.

He was sitting in his favorite stuffed chair, head back on the antimacassar, under a soft, shaded, fifty-watt pool of light, reading my notebooks.

Canfield started to sit down, his attention was drawn to the linen antimacassar on the back of the chair.

I had always lived a perfectly sheltered life back in Boston, with the antimacassars and the walnut furniture and the volumes of Emerson and Thoreau.

Apart from the antimacassars on the two leather chairs and the long couch fronting the fire, the velvet mantel-border, and the deep be-tasselled pelmet bordering the faded blue velvet curtains at the long window, it had an austere appearance.

White lace doilies lay like winter snowflakes on all the arms of the furniture, and linen antimacassars anachronistically protected the upholstered backs from men who no longer slicked their hair with Macassar oil.

Blood on the carpet, blood on the armchairs and antimacassars, even a little blood spurtled on to the wall, and what was worse, Mrs.

He fetched a pail of water and washed out all the stains of blood, gathered up the two antimacassars and fetched clean ones from the other rooms.

Her hands scraped gently at the antimacassars on the arms of the chair.

He was almost glad the house was so dark because he felt ridiculous: sitting here in his blacked-out raid wear, Kevlar vest, and bloused BDU pants, surrounded by lace antimacassars, crochet work, and frilly doilies.

There was a sofa in the room, but it was horsehair, with high ends both alike, not comfortable, which were covered with curious complications called antimacassars, that slipped off directly they were touched, so that anybody who leaned upon them was engaged continually in warfare with them, picking them up from the floor or spreading them out again.