Tuesday, 3 November 2015

17th century stays and boned bodices, part 1

This article was first published at Foundations Revealed in April 2015. Due to length and amount of picture, this article will be posted in two parts here.


Pieter de Hooch, Mother Lacing Her Bodice Beside A Cradle, 1659-1660
17th century stays is a rather neglected subject  in fashion history and little have been written about it. There are also very few remaining examples of stays and boned bodices and even fewer of those have been properly analyzed. This article will take a brief look at the history of stays and discuss a few extant garments to see if any conclusions can be drawn on how they were constructed. The focus will be on the upper classes and examples in text relate to Northern Europe in general even if the extant garments described are mostly from Great Britain.

Interesting and related topics like staymaking as a trade, critique against stay wearing and how stays were worn by different social classes will only lightly be touched upon. I am not mentioning kirtles either. In the 17th century stays could also be called a pair of bodies, a straight pair of bodies or a pair of stays, but for ease I use stays throughout the text.
A brief history of 17th century stays and fashion
Stays emerge in fashion history in the late 16th century though the exact dates and evolution process are not known. By the beginning of the  17th century stiffened stays were an indispensable garment in the upper class woman’s wardrobe. It is important, however, to remember that stays served more than one purpose. The most obvious one being to shape the body into a fashionable shape, a foundation to which the clothes were fitted. But they also served as breast support and they served a moral purpose. A female body in stays were a decent body. Stays could also be used for medical purposes, especially for children, both girls and boys, were laced into stays to ensure that they grew straight.
English School, Portrait of A Lady, 1610-1615
In the early 17th century women’s fashion were rigid and very formal. The bodice had a long narrow waist, large ruffs were still worn and so was the cumbersome farthingale. Around 1620 fashion grew less formal, and the waist crept up above its natural place.

Anthony van Dyck, Anne Sophia, Countess of Carnavon, 17th century
The high waisted fashion were quite temporary, though, in the 1640’s the waist was once again in its natural place. At the same time the boned bodice became popular, they were essentially stays covered in fabric and with sleeves permanently sewn in, making them both stays and bodice at the same time. With some variations this fashion kept up until the 1680’s. The gowns were less decorated than in the early 17th century and necklines were near or off the shoulders.
Even if the boned bodice seems to have been extremely popular, ordinary stays were still worn. Some types of garments, like riding habits, needed stays as they were not boned. There were also a growing trade of ready-made stays for the lower classes who did not rely on the boned bodice in the same way. Sweden started to import ready-made stays in 1667, for example.

In the 1670’s the mantua became a popular fashion. It was a gown that got its shape from being pleated around the body and now separate stays really came into their own. The boned bodice remained for formal wear,but the mantua kept its popularity throughout the rest of the century.

Gabriel Metsu, Woman Playing Viola de gamba, 1663
By the second half of 17th century, stays were worn by all classes and even a working woman could own more than one pair. In 1662 a maid in the Finish town Viborg, had three pairs stolen from her and in Sweden in 1684, simple stays were part of a female servant’s salary. As a result, stays were made for all classes. Upper class stays was constructed from linen canvas, buckram and silk, stiffened with whalebone and perhaps also paste and paper. For the lower classes stays were made from linen, wool or leather. Whalebones could be used in less expensive stays, but they could also be stiffened with reed, cane or pack-thread (hemp-cord). Leather stays may not have needed additional boning to give support. The lower classes could purchase their stays ready-made or second hand while the upper classes bought bespoke stays where the staymaker visited the customer’s homes to take measurements and fit the stays.

Simon Dequoy, Anne de Souvré, 1695

Stays had become an essential garment for women of all stations in life even if material and rigidity changed after the user’s need. A few years into the 18th century, in 1712, a leather bodice with a stomacher, valued to 2 s,8 d (modern value around £10) was seen as part of the clothing minimum for girls in a London charity school, indicating that it was seen as must even for society’s poorest members. Between 1684 and 1700 the records of Old Bailey lists stays as stolen property twenty-nine times. The value of them varies a lot, the cheapest are valued to 2 shilling, the most expensive ones 40. That means that stays were quite expensive, in modern pricing they would range between £8-160. Material is more rarely noted, one pair is made of stuff, usually a wool fabric and then made of silk.
In the beginning of the 17th century stay were made by the tailor, but gradually staymaking became a trade in its own right, in France, for example, that happened in 1660. Making stays were considered a man’s work, just as tailoring clothes was and even when women, in the last quarter of the century, got the right to sew clothes for their own sex, staymaking continued to be a man’s trade.

In 1688, The Academy of Armory and Blazon (Book III) describes the construction of stays with great detail. They are made of seven pattern pieces, the back, the side parts and the fore parts and the shoulder straps. Stays can be open in the front or in the back. If laced in the front then there is also the stomacher that goes under the lacing. The stomacher has a pocket for the busk, a flat piece of wood, horn, whalebone, metal or ivory that help to push the breasts up and the tummy down. The busk was often richly decorated. The boning channels are marked on the pattern pieces before they are stitched down. Whalebone is cut to size and inserted.The bottom of the stays have skirts, tabs. Stays are lined with fustian or linen and the edges are bound. The lacing holes are whipstitched. The laces have metal tags at the ends to keep from fraying. When the stays are finished, the are covered in the fabric of the gown and sleeves are attached.

Bernhard Keil, The Lacemaker, after 1660

Stays before 1650

Stays are difficult to date and there a few guidelines on how they evolved. As of now only three pairs of stays known to still exist that can be dated between 1600-1650. The oldest is known as the Effigy stays in Westminster Abbey. They were found on the effigy of Elizabeth I and was probably made for her funeral in 1603 by her tailor John Colt. They are very simple and the stays the Queen wore were covered in silk or satin. The Effigy stays are made of double layers of twill fustian and are bound with green leather. The boning channels are stitched with linen thread and it is laced in the front with twenty-nine pairs of lacing holes. They are made from three patterns pieces (the lining has four) and the side-back seam is slightly curved. They are long-waisted and the front deeps down in a peak. They are boned with whalebones.

Crimson stays at Manchester Galleries. Photo by Annika Windahl Pontén
Crimson stays, 1638-1650s The Gallery of Costumes, Platt Hall. Cut from four pattern pieces, but the seam at the center back is straight and may be a result from an effort to save fabric, not because it is necessary to have a seam there. Made from one layer of crimson silk satin and one of herringbone weave linen and bound with pale blue silk ribbon. Laced in the front over a stomacher. Boning channels sewn in pale blue silk thread. The center front is shallower and more rounded than on the Effigy stays. Six skirts with two unboned gores inserted between the skirts at the front. The seams are covered with wide metal lace.

The Sittingbourne stays were found under the floorboards of an old inn and are dated to 1620-1640. They are dated to 16 and are made of linen twill, or possibly fustian. They are front-laced and made from three pattern pieces, bound with leather. The shoulder straps are cut off the shoulder. The stays are worn and patched and have evidently been in heavy use. They have five skirts and the front goes down into a shallow peak. There is no armscye, from the high back panel the top is a straight line and it is possible that they would not encase the breasts much, if at all. Perhaps they would have looked similar to this painting were the breast support seems to be the shift as it is pressed against the bosom with the help of the stays.

Anonymous, Rich Man and Lazarus, c. 1610

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...