Monday, March 11, 2013

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Problem Solving with Regency Stays

Boobs are such an issue in the Regency.

Seriously, they're just in such *weird* places!

Naturally, or rather unnaturally, we as costumers want to try to achieve these, um, heights, and do so by trying to re-create the undies that created such effects.

I've made a lot of Regency stays, which is odd since I hardly ever dress in this period, but the reason is because I never seem to get it right with the silhouette.  So I asked the famous Maggie, Regency fairy-queen extraordinaire, her advice on how to achieve the proper early 19th c. boob shape.  Here's what she had to say:

  • Gussets - make them shallow and wide, to the point of needing a drawstring to bring them in.
  • Add boning or cording under the gussets, to keep the girls from creeping down.
  • Bits hanging out/over the top of the stays is okay - these bits are controlled by the shift.
  • Try back-lacing with a front busk.
  • Make LOTS of mock-ups.

My aim is to make short stays, so naturally I went looking for inspiration and reference first.  Here is what I found...

The Met, marked 1861, but surprisingly Regency flavored - (thank you to Amanda, who confirmed these are indeed mid-19th century, NOT Regency)  These are surprisingly close to the pattern I want to do for mine, except there are no bust gussets, and they lace both back and front.
V and A, 1790 - transitional stays.  Not the overall shape I want, but some serious support as well as separation for the bust.
Corset, Epoque Empire, musee Galliera, Paris - this might be a style to try.  It doesn't have the double-bust-gussets, but is of a length that could accommodate a busk nicely.
In my hunting, I found this article from the Oregon Regency Society to be extremely helpful - complete with very clear and clever illustrations!  So now it's on to testing out these patterns and theories...
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43 comments:

  1. I've never felt comfortable with regency stays. I just hate the way they feel. Its like trying to balance a ostrich egg on a tablespoon. I've bought ready made and tried making them myself nither felt comefortable or secure. Its one of the things that convinces me that like the 1920's its an era (desoite loving the dresses) doesn't suit me.

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    1. hahaha, I love that description! I don't think I much fancy it either - I don't mind how they feel, just look :-(

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    2. Well, never mind the boobage, but frankly anything with a shoulder strap that threatened to dig a trench in my underarm--well I'd have been the first Jane Austen character in a bra-less existence, I guess!

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  2. The top met ones marked 1861 are not Regency, the eyelets are likely to be not much earlier than 1820, and those straps are old elastic, which makes them post 1830.

    I know, *I* thought the same thing when I saw them, but then did the research and while they are still odd, they are NOT regency.

    The second to last example from Muse Galleria is what I based my last pair off of, and you can see more on them at my blog under the term "Corset en X"

    My advice, don't do bust cups that are gathered on the bottom if really want lift, as the boobs tend to "settle" in to them.

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    1. Hi Amanda - thank you for clearing that up! I changed the description. They've so peculiar, but fascinating!

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    2. I have a feeling that it is a child's corset. Am I alone?

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  3. The German blog "Kleidung um 1800" just did an excellent post on Regency stays, including a reproduction style. Among other things, she concluded that front-opening stays are a transitional style from the 18th century, and that the term "short stays" was not used in the period, but "half stays" is. Do read! It's great!
    http://kleidungum1800.blogspot.com/2013/02/half-stays-la-paresseuse.html

    For what it's worth, I read and took to heart that same article from the ORS. I also made my own reproduction of the 1790s transitional stays from the V&A. For what it's worth, here's the final article. I've got more pictures of me in them that I'm not willing to post publicly, but if they'd help you, just ask. :)
    http://sceneinthepast.blogspot.com/2013/01/historical-sew-fortnightly-1.html

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    1. @Scene in the Past
      The term "Short stays" and "Half Long Stays" are both terms *I* have read in period texts (Short in 1803, 1817, Half long in 1809, 1813), so it isn't an incorrect term, though it may be misused and misapplied by the modern costumers.

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    2. Thank you. It may have not been clear that I was trying to paraphrase the blog post's conclusion. And by "short stays" she means the type that is almost universally used by costumers, to indicate front-lacing stays with a straight lower edge. Do you have a period example of stays like that?

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    3. Short, front lacing, without tabs? Only the Corset Elastique!
      Short, front lacing with tabs, I haven't seen surviving examples, but period and later illustrations.
      short front closure (buckles) without tabs, yes.
      Half long (reaching to about the waist, bot not high hip) with or without tabs, front and/or back lacing, yes.

      And of course I need to specify that my research was primarily English language (American and British) with a little bit of French and German thrown in. So the terms: Short Stays, Half Long Stays, Little Corset, are all ones I found in English.

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    4. I love Sabine's blog - such inspiration! I have been following her Regency underpinning research, and hope to put some of it to use.

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  4. It's funny you should say the separation is weird because my breasts do that all by themselves. In modern clothes, that means that I can't wear plunge or push-up bras.

    I guess this is a good example of how every era has its own physical ideal, and that not everyone fits into the fashion. I'll be really excited to see your stays; I love that period, and I love reading about all you costumers making underpinnings to go with your garments.

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    1. Aw, lucky! Mine don't seem to do anything - they barely squish together, and they barely stand apart without coercion! It definitely is a physical ideal, and maybe I'm being too obsessive about it. I suppose raising the girls up even a little will achieve the look.

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  5. As an F cup, I think I'd feel pretty exposed in some of these! (Love the 'ostrich egg balanced on a teaspoon' comparison - yeesh, I'd probably be arrested for indecent exposure!) The more I look at Regency short stays, the more confident I can achieve the same look with my beloved Bali Flower Bra - because the uplifted/separated look that was popular in the 1950s and 1960s was actually very reminiscent of the 1810s boob. (Seriously, when I wear the Bali Flower Bra there is at least a 1" gap between my breasts and did I mention that I am an F cup?!) I do see how the short stays would be necessary for the 'boobs served up on a platter' look that was popular in lower cut evening wear but when I do finally make myself a Regency gown it will be a day dress style with a higher neckline, as I am naturally modest and prefer to keep my 'goods' to myself ;)

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    1. P.S. It's funny that you posted this today because the very next thing I have slated to sew is a set of Regency short stays... for American Girl dolls (who have no bosoms to speak of but doll scale corsetry is just such FUN!)

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    2. I like modest styles too, though I've had some trouble looking "the part," or at least thinking a gown is flattering, in the Regency era, for me. I think it has something to do with the neckline - I'm just barely a B cup, so there isn't much to expose for me, but I still feel kindof...bare, in those low necklines

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    3. i'm a 32F myself. i ended up just wearing a modern bra (which was 2 cup sizes too small) in order to give the 'lift' for my regency dress. I've been wondering if I could try a bodiced petticoat instead to next time.

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    4. I wear a 30G myself. It's doable in long stays, but it takes a bit more thought than "add wide gussets, prance around in beautiful undies".

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  6. Love Regency stays. They're so weird.
    For what it's worth, most patterns don't really have the right shape back, which makes the straps continuously slip off the shoulders. Beth at V is for Vintage did a blog post about that when she was researching, and when I made my short stays I followed her example and reshaped the back.
    http://www.visforvintage.com/2011/12/regency-stays-part-2.html
    Here's my version of the S&S, with the back alteration:
    http://wearinghistoryblog.com/2012/01/finished-project-regency-short-stays-pattern-review/
    I'm thinking of making transitional stays right now, too, so your article couldn't be more timely! I really want to get back into 18th century, but since I don't have a set of stays that fit anymore, I've gotta make some! I really love 1780s-1790s, especially those funny in between styles of late 18th century with giant hair and too much fabric volume, so gotta figure out something decent. I was kind of looking at the pattern in Waisted Efforts with the padding balls attached. Since it's so odd, I love it.

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    1. Thanks for the link about adjusting the straps in back! I'm going to have to remember that when I do mine :)

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    2. I noticed the shoulder slipping too! I like a nice tight back, as well. I'll have to adjust the shoulder straps on the mock-up I made last night (if I bother to finish it or wear it at all).

      Ooo, what are these "padding balls" - are those the little side pages attached to stays?

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  7. Check out Jean Hunnisett's 1812 corset in her book Period Costume. I've used it very usccesfully, on large cups sizes too! I use a door jamb as a busk!

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    1. I have "Period Costume for Stage and Screen," but I think I need the other releases under that title - mine is for 16th c through 18th c.

      A door jam for a busk! Hey, whatever works, right? I had a folding fan shoved down there last night, to see the effect. I've heard of people using paint stirring sticks as well.

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  8. YAY tits-on-a-shelf! I was going to tackle the Corsets and Crinolines long Regency stays, but I chickened out and bought the Laughing Moon pattern instead so that I didn't have to do as much scaling/adjusting to get the right fit. I think I'll adjust that pattern's cording to look more like the C&C one, and have the best of both worlds!

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    1. I haven't tried cording, but I'm itching to, especially in the gussets and under the boobage. I guess it's like...Regency underwire? Maybe on Experimental Regency Stays #2

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  9. Thank you for an interesting post.
    I think it is very difficult to get an idea of which style of stays were worn in the Regency based on surviving examples as they are all very different.
    I also wonder how some of them would have worked under a fashionable sheer dress? The examples above look bulky and coarse and the form would have been quite obvious under a lightweight dress especially in the bust area. Rather than relying on the stays entirely to create a fashionable shape I think many of the dresses were carefully pinned to the busk in the centre front to give a good fit. You often see in paintings decorative brooches and flowers fulfilling the same purpose.

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    1. Great comment. There is so much variety, it really is difficult to figure out what works.

      Does pinning to the busk explain the upward "swoop" that so many gowns have at the front waist when worn? That has puzzled me for a long time!

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    2. I think pinning is the answer. From what I've read, it was common, and many extant gowns have pin marks at their center front indicating that they may have been pinned to the undergarments.

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    3. Oooo! I never thought of pinning the dress to the stays! That's a great idea, and explains so much about how they somehow magically got the gown bodices to draw in there.

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  10. Darn it, I just wrote a long-winded descriptive answer, and then immediately deleted the whole thing by mistake.
    Oh well. It was to the effect that there's a tremendous amount of variety in Regency stays, because everyone's figure is different, everyone's needs are different, and everyone's fashion desires are different, so of course different underpinnings are created based on those needs.
    Also, I've made a pair of transitional stays (review here: http://sewing.patternreview.com/review/pattern/82431)
    and a pair of long Regency stays (review here: http://sewing.patternreview.com/review/pattern/74383). So far, my long stays are far more wearable and comfortable than the transitional stays. But they don't give me any separation, because my boobs are set very close together on my frame, and because I don't have a maid or a dressing helper of any kind, so I had the pattern created for front as well as back lacing, so there's no busk. I've thought about sewing a sleeve for a wooden busk I have and adding ties to the stays so that I could wear the busk under the front lacing placket, but I haven't pulled the trigger on that.

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    1. Also, I should have added, that in the Past Patterns transitional stay based on the Connecticut Historical Society pair shown in your post (although there's a similar one at Kent State), the separation between the breasts may have been due to the set of the original owner's breasts on her frame, although it was also fashionable. There's nothing my stay can do to separate my breasts that much, because mine are so closely set, so in the mock-up stage I had to shift the front boning channel next to the bust cups closer to the eyelets so that it allowed for my natural "set".

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    2. I've also tinkered with the idea of adding a pocket for a busk behind the front lacing ... as I live alone the only times I get help dressing is if I'm away at a 2 or more day event.

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    3. I think a bust pocket is a good idea, too. I noticed that the busk appears to have to be a certain length, to...I guess...cantilever off the ribcage? In my fiddling around last night with the sports-bra-length stays, front lacing, shoving a folding down the front, just to see the effect, worked, but it had to go down past the sternum.

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  11. I made Hunnisett's version and while they looked gorgeous and fit well I found I just couldn't stand them! As someone noted on facebook sitting down in something with a busk that goes that far down is a bit of a challenge. :P

    I ended up making the Mode Bagatelle bodiced petticoat and couldn't be happier with it. SO much more comfortable!

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    1. That's one of my reservations about long stays, too. I'm happy to go with the shorter styles, maybe with a short busk? Or would that be too uncomfortable? Hrm.../ponder

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  12. I kind of cheat to achieve Regency "balloon bosoms:" I wear a balconette bra and prop them up even higher with my Rago waist cincher before putting on my chemise. I highly recommend a fichu for attending tea parties with crumbly biscuits, though. So much cleavage so high up requires a certain dainty restraint while eating hors d'oeuvres that I lack.

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    1. Hahaha, indeed! I have some chemisette patterns I might try...they'd have the same effect keeping crumbs out of various crevaces, maybe? lol!

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  13. Whatever you do, do not jump with these stays and let gravity do it's work ^^

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  14. I have two pairs of late 18th C stays:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/jubileel/sets/72157624008338276/

    If you want more information or more pictures, just ask. I've also posted several other "transitional" stays on my blog. Gussets seem to be a choice thing and not absolutely necessary in a Regency stays.

    My own stays I wear are based off of the blue pair of 1790's stays I own. I love the stays and they work well for those of us that are a bit more gifted up top. ;-)

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    1. Thank you for the link! I shall peruse these rabidly.

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  16. I have absolutely no faith in boobs the size of mine ever being held up by one of these stays! One of the many reasons I don't do regency ;)

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  17. Kendra, I'm a triple-D... and mine work fine.

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