Whether you’re a Renaissance Classicism connoisseur, a Medieval hygiene expert, or simply someone who sat through Art History 101, you’ve undoubtedly seen today’s object of Obsolete Fashion. The zibellino, or “flea fur,” was a popular fur accessory carried by the hand, over the shoulder, or around the neck of men and women throughout the late 16th and early 17th century. After the jump, learn more about this unique ornament.
Zibellinos originated as a means to ward off fleas or flies using the entire pelt of martens, sables, lynx or ermines. The idea was that these furry accessories would attract unwanted fleas, who would burrow into the fur pelt of the accessory rather than the zibellino bearer’s clothing or skin. From there, one could simply shake off the zibellino, and voilà! No need to worry about flea infestation! What these furry accessories lacked in practicality they made up for in notoriety. To hold a zibellino during a portrait sitting, or take a zibellino with you all the way to the grave, indicated your high social standing and wealth.
Women carried zibellinos adorned with gold and jewels as a subliminal way to show everyone else just how much their estate was worth. In Bologna, the excessive decoration of zibellinos got so out of hand the government was forced to issue a decree banning the decoration of zibellinos with gold, pearls or precious stones. Soon thereafter, Milan banned use of pearls and stones on zibellinos, and finally, in 1575, Cesena, Italy banned carrying zibellinos altogether!
A few centuries later, women continued to carry zibellinos, or at least an updated version of the bizarre accessory. During the 1920s and 1930s, fur stoles became extremely popular, not for their flea-repelling qualities, but rather for their sophistication and warmth.
Thankfully, in today’s modern world, one does not need to worry about obtaining fleas (generally) or using real animal fur as a fashion accessory. Plenty of faux fur, fashionable accessories exist on today’s market, including the adorable Wild Weather Hand Warmer, the Feminine and Feline Cape, and the Stole-n Glances Scarf.
What do you think of the zibellino?