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.
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.