Thursday, May 28, 2009

Tight Lacing or the Cobbler's Wife in the Fashion

The HOITY head & TOIGHTY waist

As now there all the ton

Ma'am Nell the Cobbler's wife in taste

By none will be outdone.

But Ah! When set aloft her cap

Her boddice while she's bracing

Jobl'on comes in and & with his strap

Gives her a good tight lacing.

This satire, dated 1777, is pointing out the folly of not only tight lacing but also dressing above one' s station in life. The setting is a humble workroom, filled with the cobbler's tools of his trade. His fashion frenzied wife is dressed in stylish stays, a silk quilted petticoat and an extremely high hair style topped with a frilly beribboned cap. Unlike the "Tight Lacing or Fashion Before Ease" print, the cobbler's wife does not have a footman or lady's maid to assist in lacing her stays and so employs one of her husbands tools as a weight to the stay laces to draw them tightly. The husband enters the scene with his strap in hand and will beat good sense into her.

Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library Digital Collection

Children's Stays

Mr. McQueen is advertising children's Packthread stays suitable for children aged one month to seven years. For the older girl (the young misses) he has an assortment of thin boned stays of differnent sorts and sizes, these appear to be ready made and available for purchase.

New York Mercury, April 28, 1776


Mr. Banks having been blessed with triplets, two boys and a girl places that fact in his advertisement. Having increased his family by three children, he is now in need of work to support them. He also pledges neat work and low rates which would appeal to all potential customers.

Boston Newsletter, April 3, 1768

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Tight Lacing or Fashion Before Ease

This satirical print is making sport of the fashionable woman on many levels. During the time period of the 1770s there were a number of prints published in England on this subject. Tight Lacing of stays was coming under criticism as the fashionistas tried to achieve through stays and tight lacing extremely narrow waists. An article published by Colonial Williamsburg entitled "Tight Lacing:Taking Great Pains with Fashion" by Susan Pryor details more citations on tight lacing, however I do not agree with the conclusions drawn by the author that all stays were injurious to health. Stays were worn until fashion said otherwise when the change to the classical and natural began in the last decades of the 18th Century.

In this well known English print, c1777, the strapping footman has his hands full with his lovely young mistress, the lady's maid is quite enjoying holding the handsome footman and the young black servant is having a good time assisting the young maid with his hands snugly around her waist while the dog looks on with canine curiosity. The monkey is pointing to a book with the words "victim of eating".

The point of the satire is easily taken, the tight lacing of the stays is being lampooned as fashionable folly, but this print tells historical costumers some information. She is wearing her under petticoat under her stays, her pocket is also being worn under the stays. She has her hair done prior to dressing and putting on her stays and is also wearing her shoes and stockings. The stays have an extremely narrow waist and yet are broad across the chest and under the arms, certainly not comfortable. All these details assist in putting together the entire package that is the 18th century woman from the inside out.

Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library Digital Collection

Stay Making Supplies

What did the 18th Century Stay Maker need for supplies? According to Mr. John McQueen he stocked the following materials some of which are very familar to us and some are not.

White buckram (gummed and stiffened linen)

Half stiffened Irish buckram

White Russel canvas (canvas is heavy weight linen, Russel is a worsted wool, I am not sure of what this material is made)

White and black watered tabby (plain silk, with a watered finishº

White Janes ( a linen and cotton twilled fabric, also known as Jean)

Baladine Sewing Silks (a course raw silk sewing thread, very durable)

Galoon (wool, silk, or cotton combined with worsted or silk made into a tape, used for trimming and binding)

Bread Cord (this term appears in many advertisments for stay making supplies, some sort of cord, possibly for trimming the fronts of stays in a decorative manner or as the cord used for lacing up the stays)

Shaping (A guess? Possibly pre shaped whale bone for the front curve of the stays?)

Steel Collars (No guess on exactly what these looked like, but they are necessary for those girls attending boarding schools and very much worn by the young ladies in England !)

Textiles in America, 1650-1870, Florence Montgomery

Proper Measures

Pennyslvania Chronicle, September 19, 1772

Mr. White has moved his shop and is taking care to inform his old customers of his new location in the most polite manner. He is also ready to take orders from the country requiring proper measure taken of the length and width of the stays to be made, both the top and bottom and front and back parts. Can we assume these measures are taken from existing stays? Also of interest is the image in his advertisement. Note the curve of the back piece of the stays, this curve accommodates the indentation of the waist. The lacing on the front of the stays is very typical of the 1750s and 1760s stays, it is not functional, purely decorative.

A Source for Patterns

"Corsets" is a new book on Historical Undergarments, lovely photographs and line drawing illustrations, primary 19th century but there are several late 18th century stays (English) detailed. The graphs are clear and well laid out, it is a good addition to a costume library.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Mr. Allen is informing his customers that he is London trained as a
Stay-Maker and is advertising turned stays, jumps, packthread and bone stays as one would expect. An unusual item in the list of his stays/products is "Gazzets" a term that need further research and study. Since it is in the list of stay items, is it a type of stay? A children's item? A fashion flash in the pan? Uniquely New England? A search of the Old Bailey does not return any results.

Boston Evening Post, September 28, 1772

Mending Stays

Mr. Tyrrell not only makes new stays, in a wide assortment of stays including: turned, straw cut (whalebone) , pack thread (corded)and half boned pack thread stays but also mends and repairs all sorts of old stays. Stays are a large expense in a woman's wardrobe, mending a comfortable, worn in pair of stays is practical good sense.

Georgia Gazette, February 21, 1765

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Taking the Measure

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Doing the Work?

Who is making the Stays?

According to Mr. Cambell the author of the the London Tradesman, this is the Division of Work in the shop of the Stay-Maker:

The Stay-Maker takes the ladies shape as nicely as he can, cuts out the tabby and canvas which is then given to women to sew the rows of stitching. This is piece work and the pay is minimal. Anyone who has examined a pair of original and professionally made stays can bear witness to the perfection of stitching and the many hours of labor required to sew all of the channels for a pair of stays.

Proceedings of the Old Bailey,Samuel Lowe, Susanah Butcher, Theft 4th December 1751.

“I have known her three years, she lived with me about 2 years ago; I never heard any thing, but what she is a very honest girl; her business is stitching of stays.”

Stay binding, trimming, and whale fin were purchased from the Haberdasher and then the job of stuffing the whale fin into the channels was done by the Master or Foreman of the shop.

"The work is too hard for Women, it requires more strength than they are capable of.." London Tradesman, c1747

The stays were then loosely sewn together, taken to the customer for a final fitting and then they were finished by laying braid along the seam and lacing across the stomacher and the edges bound.

New York Staymaker Advertises in Virginia

Virginia Gazette, May 1772

Mr. Joseph Beck advertises as a Stay-Maker from London who is living in New York. The stays are measured by Mrs. Deane in Williamsburg, Virginia and the orders sent to Mr. Beck in New York, he pledges satisfaction and utmost punctuality.

Mail Order Stays

Mr. John Wolf's advertisment as a Stay-Maker also includes stays by mail order! Guaranteeing delivery weekly in as neat a manner as his competetion when sending by the post.

Maryland Gazette, May 14, 1767

Stay Makers in the Colonies

Mr. Waddell takes care to inform the public that he has opened a shop in Fredericksburg. He details his education and experience with the trade, establishing his bona fides to his potential customers. He also ensures prompt delivery, good workmanship and customer satisfaction.

Virginia Gazette, March 1770

18th Century Stays and Stay Makers

The Stay Making trade in England during the 18th century was a man's profession, as a seperate business or incorporated into the tailoring, habit making trade.

"The Stay -Maker is employed in making Stays, Jumps and Bodice for the Ladies. He ought to be a very polite Tradesman, as he approaches the Ladies so nearly"

The London Tradesman c 1747