What are Feather Boas?

Jane Harmon

Feather boas are very long ropes of feathers that are worn as scarves or stoles, draped elegantly over the arms and drooping down the back. They are now considered quite campy, but have periodically been serious fashion. Victorian ladies might drape boas over their gloved-to-the-elbows arms to appear at the opera. Mae West was renowned for flirtatiously flaunting feather boas, and all her imitators do likewise. Vamping with a boa is now visual shorthand for the sexy vaudeville reviews of the 1890s and early 20th century.

Feather boas are often seen on Mardi Gras.
Feather boas are often seen on Mardi Gras.

Any of a number of different feathers can be used to make a boa, but they are typically made with turkey, marabou or ostrich. The feathers can be dyed — and usually are — in bright colors to match any outfit. Two-toned feathers are also popular, with some are dyed one color and tipped in another. White tipped black feather boas can be quite dramatic.

Ostrich feathers are often made into boas.
Ostrich feathers are often made into boas.

While most people no longer wear these items normally, there are still plenty of chances to play the boa-wearing vamp throughout the year. Costume functions are good opportunities, and of course no Mardi Gras celebration would be complete without the full complement in purple, gold and green.

When selecting feather boas, shoppers should consider whether they have to look good at a bit of a distance, as for a floor show, and how they are going to wear them. Turkey feather boas show off better from afar, since the feathers are stiffer and stand out in all directions, but they can feel bristly and uncomfortable rubbing the neck or bare arms. Marabou is softer, droopier and more suitable for wearing against skin. For the full dramatic flavor, those worn by adults should be at least 6 feet (1.8 m) long. Shorter boas should be selected for the children's dress-up box.

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