Stays were the essential foundations of the 18th century. They developed from the “boned bodys” of the 17th century and by the 19th century they further evolved and became known as corsets. As the name changed, so did their shape along with their effects on the human body.
These 17th century “boned bodys” were made up of 2 matching “bodys” – a right body and a left body. The plural term “bodys” later became bodice. These “boned bodys” contained reed, bone, baleen or steel sewn into channels made in the fabric to support and aid posture. The fabric of pretty stays were lined with linen and the outer shell being of silk, for those who could afford it.
These “boned bodys” created a 17th century torso that was an elongated tubular trunk, with little taper and an encased bosom. The 18th century stays had a conical form lifting and supporting the bosom. The 19th century corsets created a curve-linear body minimizing the waist and accenting the bosom. Though very fashionable, these latter Victorian corsets came with extreme risk to one’s health – drastically changing the rib cage shape thus repositioning and crowding the internal organs.
Eighteenth century stays were worn by both gentry and the middling sort most of the time. Fashionable ladies wanted a good shape and the working women needed to support their weak backs. Women had poor health in those days due to poor nutrition and lack of medical knowledge.
The word “stays” was an English word. The terminology of “stays” or “jumps” was used interchangeably, “stays“ being the more universal term.
In our Hyland House collections four remarkable stays from the 18th century are on exhibit. Cording that was used to close the stays was braided using a lucet tool. Click here to learn more about the use of the lucet.
These stays from centuries ago give some insight into what colonists wore as undergarments and are a part of the history of “what lies beneath” in 18th century fashion.