Tuesday, June 30, 2009

At the Sign of the White Stays

Mr. McQueen can be found on Smith Street, near the Mayor's and his trade sign has a pair of white stays as the visual shop advertisement, with the usual promise that his stays are made in the newest fashion direct from London!

March 17, 1766, New York Gazette

A the Sign of the Green Stays

Mr Catringer is advertising his move to a new location on Chestnut Street, which is near Front Stree (his old locale). He can be found at the Sign of the Green Stays. He makes all sorts of stays at reasonable prices.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

At the Sign of the Blue Stays

Mr. John White is advertising not only his wares, (all sorts of women's and children's stays), his expertise, (in the neatest manner and in the newest fashion) but also his location (on Front Street, next door but one to Chestnut Street) . His shop can be found at the Sign of the Blue Stays.

January 7, 1755 Pennsylvania Gazette

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Source for Patterns

This book contains line drawings of original 18th century garments from the Snowshill Collection, there are no photographs but there are brief descriptions of each garment. For that reason alone, the book is a worthwhile addtion to the costume library. From a stay-making perspective there are three pair of stays detailed in the book. A red silk pair, laced back and front with shoulder straps, a blue silk damaskpair, laced back and front with shoulder straps and an unusual pair of green linen stays with no shoulder straps, back lacing only. There are two other pairs featured, they are both late 3rd Qtr, 18th c, both are back lacing only, one of linen and fully boned, the other with a cotton outer layer, half boned.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Last Shift

As the woman washes her last shift, (wearing only a large handkerchief to cover her bosom), the stays she was wearing are shown on the floor under table. the stays are of a neutral/natural color, back lacing are still holding the shape of her body. The whalebone has with the warmth of the body taken on its shape. There is probably additional horizontal boning to the interior that is contributing to the boundedness of these stays.

Courtesy of the British Museum

Getting Ready for the Ball

This print (c1776) gives another look at an undressed woman wearing her stays. She appears to be wearing an underpetticoat and stays with narrow tabs and decorative lacing often found on stays, which is purely decorative and not actually used to lace the front closed. The poor chicken has been plucked to provide the feathers for the towering hairstyle, another spoof of the extreme fashion and high hair of the 1770s.

Courtesy of the British Museum

Bath Stays

These workman are laboring to produce the steel shapes referred to in many of the stay maker advertisements. The blacksmith pounding on the anvil is working on a pair of steel stays, which is an exaggeration on the theme of using steel in women's stays. the woman is once again being fitted for her stays in petticoat and pocket. This print is entitled "Bath stays or the Ladys Steel Shapes" c 1777.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Whalebone Macaroni

This print of the Whale Bone Macaroni (c1772) shows us a Staymaker making a delivery of a pair of stays. This is one of series of prints spoofing the "Macaroni" fashion being followed by tradesmen. He certainly looks more dashing than one would expect a hardworking tradesman to dress. The Lewis Walpole Digital Library has a number of these prints online, follow the links to see addtional tradesmen dressed in the exaggerated continental style known as Macaroni.

Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Digital Library

Receiving Stolen Property

Stays as found in the Proceeding of the Old Bailey were put to another use besides shaping and supporting the body, they were also a repository for stolen goods! Thieves and pickpockets used the secured intimacy of the stays to conceal a truly wide assortment of stolen property. The 18th century storekeeper did not operate under any constraints regarding the personal rights and liberties of the thief and had no compunction about stripping the woman down and doing a search for the missing property right in the shop.

“lifted her up, and felt something soft tucked under her stays behind ; I put my hand up under a petticoat or two, I cannot say which, and there found this piece of lawn; I wrote my name upon it; here it is.”

Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, 16 June 2009), October 1751, trial Elizabeth Medows (t17511016-24)

“then in searching her by untying her petticoats at the bottom of her stays I found this bag, here produced, with gold in it; it amounted in the whole, silver and gold together, to 33 l. 18 s. 2 d 1/2.”

Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, 16 June 2009), September 1754, trial Ann Leddiard, (t17540911-37)

“we took her into the back room, and took six yards of lace from under her stays, my property; I sent for a constable”

Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, 16 June 2009), October 1759, trial Elizabeth Rosdell, (t17591024-2)

“I saw the prisoner standing in my kitchen by the door, with the things mentioned in the indictment, in her apron; I stopt her, and found four pewter plates under her stays” Ouch!

Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, 16 June 2009), May 1771, trial Mary King, (t17710515-49)

“ upon taking off her stays and shaking her cloaths, there fell down a guinea, a half guinea, a half crown and a shilling, which with the 4 s. that were found before, made up the money that I missed”

Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, 16 June 2009), January 1778, trial Ann Shepherd, (t17780115-50)

A Pleasing Circumference

This Carington Bowles c 1784 print shows the amorous Stay-maker making a house call, which he appears to be enjoying quite a bit! He is down on one knee taking the customer's waist measure with a tape of some sort, the tape has no increment markings. The tape hangs like a linen tape, but could as easily be the more commonly used paper tape, as would a tailor. There are two pair of stays in the picture, a pair on the floor (whitish in color), wrapped in a patterned handkerchief or scrap of fabric and a pair on a side table. The pair on the table has a different color to the front panels (pink), and has the appearance of being worn, as they are holding their shape when removed from the wearer, the assumption is these are her old pair, baleen boning over time will mold to the body and when the stays are removed they retain the roundness of the body.

Courtesy of the British Museum

Monday, June 15, 2009

She's Not Wearing Any!

This satirical print entitled "The Abusive Fruitwoman" c 1773, offers us a look at a larger lady in working class dress who is most obviously not wearing stays. She is wearing typical working class attire including a bedgown, apron, short cloak, petticoat, practical shoes and black silk bonnet, but no stays. She appears to be in the process of giving the passing young woman a tongue lashing, the assumption is the young fashion follower is a prostitute as it would make no sense to verbally abuse a lady of quality who would be a potential customer. The young boy in the print is taking advantage of the fruit woman's distraction and stealing from her table, with a sly finger to his nose.

Analysis of Beauty

Mr William Hogarth, in 1753 published "The Analysis of Beauty" which describes in detail Mr. Hogarth's opinion on what constituted visual beauty and good taste (quite a controversial topic of the time from a controversial artist).

The "S" curve, a serpentine line found in many elements of 18th century art, architecture, furniture and textiles constituted Hogarth's famous "Line of Beauty". In this plate, Analysis of Beauty (Plate 1 of 2), the fourth pair of stays (center) is the ideal shape, having all of those elements that are pleasing to the eye including: fitness, variety, simplicity, regularity, quantity and intricacy.

This plate shows us, the modern staymakers, what the ideal stayed figure should achieve from a visual standpoint while wearing stays. Too straight (number 1) is to be avoided as not pleasing to the eye, while too curvy (number 7) is also not attractive with the exaggerated curves to back and front, therefore striking a balance between the two extremes (number 4) is our goal when fashioning the stayed body.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Moral Story and Children's Stays

Mr. J. L. Bell, on his Boston, 1775 site has written an article of interest to this discussion of stays entitled "The Ruffles so Shockingly Hemmed" which is a tale from a children's book that references as a reward a new pair of children's stays for improved behavior on the part of a little girl. Not something one would think would be included in a reward system for children!

As noted in many of the advertisements children's stays were widely available and for sale here in the colonies and there are children's stays in several museum collections.

The Museum of Costume in Bath has in their collection a pair of children's stays. Follow the link for the complete and detailed record.

The Musuem of Costume estimates these stays would fit a two year old child. Notice that these stays do not have waist tabs as the young child's body does not yet have defined hips, on an adult the tabs flare out over the hips, preventing the boning from digging in to the wearer and also providing strength to the entire stays.

The directions of the boning channels are vertical at center front and only slightly slanted at the sides of the body. The purpose of these stays is to provide support and protection and not to force the waist into a narrow shape. These stays appear to be in only three pieces, one center front and two side/back pieces and are constructed of only two layers of linen.

These appear to only partially boned, at center front there appear to be bones missing, but this is conjecture as the museum record does not indicate this. The boning on these stays is baleen (whale fin).

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


Not only the young and beautiful wanted an enviable shape! This satire is going after the familiar subject of mutton trying to be lamb as the old woman is employing tight lacing to meet the current fashion and compete in style with the young. Her enormous headdress, bulging breasts, scrawny neck and narrow waist get the point across rather quickly. This is a variation on the "Tight Lacing or Fashion Before Ease" print, hitting two female foibles at the same time. a twofer.

Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Digital Library

Cream Worsted Stays

These stays are in my private collection and they will be the focus of an in depth study on stays on this blog. These stays are professionally constructed by a professional staymaker and have a New England provenance.

Private Collection, Hallie Larkin

French Hips

Mr. Warden, late from London, (as all good staymakers are!) would prefer cash payment and is of course providing stays in the newest fashion. He goes on to describe the available choices in stays which could be turned, plain, back-thread or French Hips.

Speculation: "Back-thread" stays (pack thread) are stays with rows of cording for stiffening in place of whalebone. "Plain" stays (linen and buckram) are without a fashion fabric cover making "turned" stays those with a fashion fabric. Fashion fabric as the outer layer of stays could be free of the boning channels, keeping the exterior smooth and without showing the stitching of the channels or the boning channels could be sewn through all layers including the fashion fabric layer. Stays with "French Hips"? I will venture an opinion that the "French Hips" are referring in some way to the construction of the stay tabs which overlay the hip area and done in such a way as to differ from the English method.

Monday, June 8, 2009

A Source for Patterns

"Costume Close-up: Clothing Construction and Pattern, 1750–1790"
By Linda Baumgarten and John Watson with Florine Carr

While Costume Close-up does not have a variety of patterns for stays, it does have one, which is well diagrammed, graphed and ready for scaling up to size. These stays are typical 3rd quarter 18th century stays, covered in what is now pink (was lavender) worsted wool satin, the seams are trimmed in white leather and the edges bound in white leather. The interior of the stays have a loose (replaceable) linen lining and white leather covers the tabs (fingers) of the stays, each tab is individually lined with white leather, the leather wears well as that section of the stays are constantly rubbing and moving with the body.

More importantly this book describes in detail and with diagrams 18th century sewing stitches and construction techniques. Linda Baumgarten with clear line drawings lays out the layers of the stays and gives detailed descriptions of how these stays are constructed. This book is a must have for beginners, advanced staymakers and all 18th century costumers. It is back in print and very affordable for the wealth of information on original garments.

Value of Stays

The cost to purchase a new pair of stays is not included in the newspaper advertisements of staymakers . Therefore to determine the relative costing of stays the Proceedings of the Old Bailey is used as a resource. To help decipher British 18th century currency there is excellent information on the British monetery system at the Proceedings as well.

The values placed on stolen objects are arbitrary and decided upon by the clerk of the courts, of course the victim would like his property valued at the highest amount possible, but even with all of those caveats there is still some good information to be found. The lowest value set on a pair of stays from 1770-1773 was 6d. The amount citied for a new pair of stays was 30s. Most of the citiations during this same time period put a price on stays in the mid range of 5-12 s.

If a domestic servant living in 18th century London is only earning 2-3 £ (pounds) per year (which equals 40-60 shillings), then a new set of stays would be a large portion of your annual income, keeping new stays out of reach and the second hand market the affordable choice.

“a pair of stays, value 1s.”
Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, 8 June 2009), February 1770, trial of Mary Harwood (t17700221-34)

“a pair of stays, value 4s.”
Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, 8 June 2009), April 1770, Ordinary’s Account, Job Parker

“a pair of stays, value 12s”
Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, 8 June 2009), April 1770, trial Charles Chatterly, James Parker(: t17700425-61 )

“a pair of stays, value 8s”
Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, 8 June 2009), July 1770, trial Rebecca Keith (t17700711-20)

“a pair of stays, value 6d”
Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, 8 June 2009), February 1773, trial Ann Haag (t17730217-35)

“a pair of new stays, value 30s”
Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, 8 June 2009), December 1773 trial Mary Worth (t17731208-48)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Waisted Efforts

Waisted Efforts is a source of several period patterns from the 17th through the 19th centuries. The book is written from a Costumer's point of view that addresses the issues of fitting to the body, constructing toiles and fitting muslins that many Costume History books do not attempt to explain or explore in any depth. Mr. Doyle provides a step by step look at making stays and corsets, but keep in mind the instructions are not following period techniques. A good addition to the library and not a waste of effort at all!

Out on the Town

The caption on this British Mezzotint, c 1772, reads "Lady Drudger going to Ranelagh". The old woman is primping for her visit to the 18th century pleasure gardens of Ranelagh, where there would be dancing, music and fine foods. Is the purpose of the print to poke fun at an older woman trying to look attractive, or is this cartoon aimed at a particular person whose identity is lost to us?

For the purposes of information about 18th century stays, it does show the pocket worn beneath the stays, a ribbon lacing across the front of the stays over the stomacher ( a different color from the rest of the stays) with the ribbon knotted into an attractive bow. It also depicts a pair of stays on a not so slender figure, and as in the "Tight Lacing, or Fashion before Ease" print, the underpetticoat is worn under the stays and is relatively short.

Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library Digital Collection


Mr. Astle, coming directly from London, as the best staymakers do, (there must have been a convoy of staymakers leaving London), is advertising his skills as not only a staymaker but also as a taylor and habbitmaker. In this advertisement he is also touting that he makes all kinds of Cloaks and Huzzas. Is a Huzza a type of cloak? An outer garment?

A Source for Patterns

Corsets and Crinolines, by Norah Waugh first published in 1954, with frequent reprinting, contains a limited section on 18th century stays, but good diagrams, period references and citations. While mainly 19th century in orientation, this book is a good starting place for the modern staymaker. It is still an expensive reference book, and while it is nice to have on hand, interlibrary loan would be a good option.