Saturday, 7 November 2015

17th century stays and boned bodices, part 2

Part 1 can be found here.
Stays after 1650

Salmon pink stays, 1660-1680 at V&A. Made out of ten pattern pieces, giving it a slightly more curvaceous shape than earlier stays and making the waist more round rather than oval. One layer of watered silk and one layer herringbone weave linen, possibly ticking, bound with silk grosgrain ribbon. Laced in front over a boned, T-shaped stomacher. The boning channels are stitched with silk and boned with whalebones. Ten skirts with six gores inserted between the front ones. The gores are not boned. The stays are not lined, but the seams are covered on the inside with silk grosgrain ribbon. 3/4 -length sleeves are attached with ribbons to the shoulder straps. Though they are more advanced in cut than previous stays and probably also made in a different country, they still have similar construction method.

Silk and wool stays, dated 1671-1680. The front is covered with silk brocade and decorated with silver gilt braid and spangles. The back is covered with blue wool and it is lined with linen.

Yellow silk stays, either late 17th century or early 18th century. The cut of stays didn’t change abruptly at the turning of the century and it is difficult to say exactly on which side of 1700 they were made. These are covered in silk, making the boning channels invisiböe and is decorated with silver lace.


Boned bodices

The 1630´s ivory silk slashed bodice in V&A has a boned lining, but it is different from other extant bodices. It is open in the front it is probably that there was originally a stomacher as well. The foundation is built from several layers of buckram and linen canvas, reinforced, not fully boned, with whalebones. The boning is wider than in other extant stays and bodices, about 12 mm and in the back the boning is put in horizontally. It also differs from other bodices in that it cut above the waist and has no tabs, which is in keeping with the current fashion which had a raised waist.


Pale-coloured silk satin bodice, 1660-1669, V&A. Decorated with parchment lace. The boned foundations is made from twelve pattern pieces, reinforced at places with up to three extra layers of linen. The middle side panel is unboned but stiffened with buckram and wool and may be a later addition to increase the size. The foundation is made by two layers of linen and has ten skirts. Boned with whalebone, at the back are four horizontal bones placed on top of the vertical ones. A pocket for a busk is placed at the center front. Lined with ikat woven silk.

Green silk bodice, Museum of London, 1650-1670. Decorated with silver bobbin lace and silver alloy spangles and heavily boned.


Silver tissue gown with a boned bodice from the 1660’s, Fashion Museum, Bath. Photo by Ludi Ling

Iron stays

Several iron stays have been preserved, most of them dating to the decades before and after 1600. They are usually rather elaborate and elegant in shape, the metal perforated in patterns and the shape follow the form a fashionable female torso should possess; a cone. When worn they would have been padded on the inside and covered with fabric, making them a bit more comfortable than they look at the first glance. Their purpose is not completely clear though and there are more than one theory to their function.

Iron corset, 1580-1599, York Castle Museum

The rigidity of their shape could have served a medical purpose, like correcting scoliosis. Children were certainly fitted with stays to correct mis-happen body’s and it is not impossible that grown women could be in need of corrective help as well. It is also known that Eleonora of Toledo, who suffered from rheumatism and tuberculosis, had metal stays made for her, They were not listed among her clothes, which indicate that they were used for medical purposes.

They could also have been worn as an expression of piety, an unyielding sister to the hair shirt, that a noble woman could wear for religious reasons while at the same time retaining a fashionable shape. It is also possible that the extreme rigidity could be something sought after for the most ceremonial and formal occasions. A woman in full court wear was a display, an ornament or a showcase of wealth and then iron stays may have provided the perfect frame for it. They must have been quite heavy to wear but considering the weight of a farthingale, several  petticoats and a heavily decorated gown, perhaps the extra weight of a metal corset wasn’t too much of a burden, especially if they were just worn for special occasions.

Anonymous, Elizabeth Vernon, Countess of Southampton, c. 1600

Despite the small sample material and the difficulty in finding information, some conclusions about stays and boned bodices can be drawn. Hopefully there will one day be more in-depth research on the subject which undoubtedly would provide more and better information than this short article can provide.

  • Stays and boned bodices in the 17th century moulded the figure. The pattern pieces fit like a jigsaw puzzle, making the stays two-dimensional. Later, in the 18th century seams started to curve on each other, creating a garment that to some extent adapted to the female body’s natural curves. In the 17th century it was the body which had to adapt to the stays, pushing the breast up and stomach down.
  • Stays and boned bodices were always fully boned and the boning channels, when they can be seen, are vertical. There is one exception to this; the ivory, slashed satin bodice in V&A. Apart from this example, stays and bodices both from the early and the late 17th century are heavily boned.
  • The shoulder straps on the stays are placed in correspondence to how the fashionable neckline was cut. The Effigy stays have shoulder straps that cover the shoulders as fashion dictated in 1603, later stays have straps that are off the shoulders.
  • Stays from the first half of the 17th century are front-laced, both with or without a separate stomacher. They have few pattern pieces.
  • Stays from the second half are a bit more varied. There are the front-laced stays from V&A, which has a stomacher and attached sleeves. Most of the extant stays are back-laced, however, and they are covered so the boning channels are invisible. The front are decorated and sometimes the fabric that covers the front is more expensive than the fabric in the back. Stays are made of several pattern pieces.
  • All extant boned bodices, apart from the slashed satin one, are back-laced. They too are constructed from several pattern pieces. Most of the extant stays are decorated and/or covered with expensive fabric, indicating that they were meant to be visible and not solely regarded as foundations underwear. Stays with attachable sleeves further blur the line between stays and bodice.

Gerard ter Borch, The Concert, 1655


Arnold, Janet Patterns of Fashion: Englishwomen's Dresses & Their Construction, London: MacMillan, 1977

Arnold, Janet Patterns of Fashion: The Cut and Construction of Clothes For Men and Women c1560-1620, London: Macmillan, 1985

Arnold, Janet “The ‘pair of straight bodies’ and ‘a pair of drawers’ dating from 1603 which Clothe the Effigy of Queen Elizabeth I in Westminster Abbey”, Costume, vol 41, 2007

Hammar, Britta & Rasmussen, Pernilla Underkläder: En kulturhistoria, Stockholm, Signum, 2008

Kunzle, David Fashion and Fetishism: Corset, Tight-lacing and Other Forms of Body-sculpture, New ed., Stroud : Sutton, 2004

North, Susan & Tiramani, Jenny (ed.) Seventeenth-century women's dress patterns. Book 1, London : V & A Publishing, 2011

North, Susan & Tiramani, Jenny (ed.) Seventeenth-century women's dress patterns. Book 2, London : V & A Publishing, 2012

Pietsch, Johannes Die Kostümsammlung Hüpsch im Hessischen Landesmuseum Darmstadt, Bestandskatalog der Männer- und Frauenkleidungsstücke; Studien zu Material, Technik und Geschichte der Bekleidung im 17. Jahrhundert, The Hüpsch Costume Collection in the Hessisches Landesmuseum Darmstadt, 2008

Ribeiro, Aileen Fashion and fiction: Dress In Art and Literature in Stuart England, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005

Sorge-English, Lynn Stays and Body Image In London: The Staymaking Trade, 1680-1810, London: Pickering & Chatto, 2011.

Steele, Valerie The Corset: A Cultural History, New Haven; Yale University Press, 2001
Wiseman, Richard Several chirurgical treatises, London, Flesher, 1676

Online sources

To Stay or Not to Stay..., Anèa Costume


MrsC (Maryanne) said...

This is so interesting! So what is the distinction between a bodice and a pair of stays? When stays have sleeves even? Is it to do with boning?

Isis said...

MrsC: As far as I can see, stays and boned bodices pretty much overlap. A bodice has sleeves attached, but a pair of stays could have tie on sleeves, but the boning oatterns seems to have been the same.. So it's a rather blurred line between underwear and outwear. There really need to be some proper research done on 17th century stays, there really isn't much to be find and a lot of contradictions, like a scholary work claiming there are no extant stays before 1680, which obviously isn't correct.

FashioningNostalgia said...

Hi Mrs C & Isis: I'm actually doing part of my PhD on bodies and boned bodices (the other half on farthingales and bum rolls). I agree with Isis, in the late 17th century there is really an overlap in terminology between the two. In English records for example, you start seeing the word "stays" used in the 1680s, however, tailors records and Royal household accounts from this same period will occasionally still use the words "bodies/bodice" even though they are clearly making the same garment. It's very much a transition period for the terminology. Also bodies and bodices could mean different things depending on the context, and if sleeves were added (as Isis says they were usually removable like the pink pair in the V&A).
17th century bodies could be inner or outer wear - I've found it depends on the social status of the person. The richer you were the more likely it was to be an undergarment, the poorer you were it could be both. In the 1660s bodies as an undergarment pretty much disappear for the most part, as the boned bodice became more fashionable. But again, it's incredibly hard to know these things for sure as terminology changed so much, and different words could mean different things to different people (as terminology like 'singlet' or 'vest' does now).

In my PhD I've dedicated a whole chapter to discussing terminology and design, as well as another one on consumption and class - whilst the rest is looking at social history and concepts of femininity and beauty.

Lynn Sorge-English briefly discusses 17th century bodices in her book 'Stays and Body Image in London'. I don't agree with everything she says but it's a helpful starting point. :)

Isis said...

FashioningNostalgia: That sounds like a really interesting PhD! I would love to read it! Terminology can be a hard nut to crack, can't it? If it's any consolation, it's fussy in Swedish as well.

I used that book and I agree with you- I didn't agree with everything she said. :)

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