Since 1873, when Chester Greenwood, a 17-year-old from Farmington, Me., stuck two pieces of cloth on a coil of spring metal and invented Greenwood’s Champion Ear Protectors, the earmuff has drifted in and out of fashion. The earmuff, a fixture with a generation of Canadian kids who donned the imitation-fur pads for skating parties during the 1940s and 1950s, almost faded from view in the past 20 years. Now, L & G Manufacturing Co. of Boston, since 1933 the largest manufacturer of earmuffs for North America, says that sales have climbed abruptly to six million pairs from about 1.8 million pairs in 1980. At an average price of $10, the proletarian headgear has emerged as the cheapest new way to fight off the cold since leg warmers.
Despite unseasonably mild temperatures across the country this winter, hat haters of every persuasian have embraced the ear gear. In Vancouver young skiers sport Strawberry Shortcake and Smurf versions. On trendy streets in Toronto and Montreal imitation leopard-skin and pastel-hued earmuffs have cropped up as a standard accessory for those anxious to preserve expensive new wave haircuts. The revival has piggybacked on the Sony Walkman fad. Audiophiles can now buy two white muffs called “Eskimos” that snap directly onto each headphone earpiece. But the heaviest traffic is where
it has always been, in bottom-of-theline brightly colored Borg earmuffs. Maureen Rankin, Toronto-based women’s accessories buyer for the T. Eaton Co., said that although this is the first year the product has been introduced, Eaton’s stores across Canada
have already sold more than 13,000 pairs at $5 each.
Inevitably, the fashion industry is capitalizing on the boomlet. This winter, for the first time, upscale buyers can purchase fur earmuffs made for Holt Renfrew clothing stores ($110 for a pair in fox and as much as $50 for rabbit muffs with plastic or velvet bands). Other carriage-trade shoppers can choose from a more exclusive made-to-order stock with fur headbands from Creeds. President Thomas Creed, who first saw the muffs being worn in New York last year, has been urging his fur customers this year to buy his new matching earmuffs in more than eight hues of mink and six shades of dyed beaver. Creeds furrier Michael Mitchell reports that the store has sold more than 200 pairs this year and
that orders are “coming in
from across the country, including Vancouver and St. John’s.” Toronto socialite Catherine Leggett is wearing probably the most expensive earmuffs in Canada—-a pair fashioned from Creeds’ Canadian sable that she bought for $500.
This year’s trend has already generated a small fortune for one Canadian distributor. Inspired by the Paris fad, Ralph Orman, president of the Hamilton-based accessories company, Peepers, started marketing large earmuffs as Christmas gifts. He commissioned Boston’s L & G to produce his Big Muffs and to package them in clear plastic containers for sale at $10 each. So far this season sales in Canada and the United States have been $1.5 million. Says Orman: “When times are tough, the accessory business gets stronger.” Instead of buying a new piece of clothing, he says, women are using earmuffs to dress up their existing wardrobes.
While most retailers believe this year’s trend will be short-lived, some maintain that the idea of cheap winter protection will survive for at least another season. “They seem to go in cycles,” says a delighted David Bamel, sales vice-president of L & G. Chester Greenwood would be g pleased, if not downright “ warmed by the new craze.
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