A little while ago I attended a fascinating lecture on underwear through the ages, presented by Jan the Costume Anthropologist at the Marjorie Russell Clothing and Textile Research Center. While this small and exclusive branch of the Nevada State Museum collects and preserves primarily clothing of the 19th century, they do have a few extremely rare items from before that time – that is, Nevada did not see its influx of settlers until around 1850, and so items from before this period were carried along with these pioneers, as family treasures.
What caught my interest was the first item we looked at, a pair of 18th c. stays belonging to the Billinghurst family, a prominent name in Northern Nevada (or at least a local middle school is named for them). The museum had them dated quite early – 1760s – but I question that (I know, how dare I!) because of the shortness of waist (which you can’t see in the photos, but these stays were TINY, almost child-sized), and the boning pattern, which is interesting. I would put them more at late 1780s – what do you think?
(Click Photos for Larger Sizes)
|They’re not pretty – the outer fabric is pretty basic heavy linen, and the sandwich layer is a pretty coarse linen. The lining would have been tacked in and then removable to be cleaned or replaced. This image shows the outside, the wearer’s left side. Check out those gnarly boning channels all crossing each other.|
|Here’s the wearer’s right side. The stays lace in front and have no lacings in the back. You can see on this side there is an addition up on the strap tab, perhaps a repair? It’s not obvious from these exterior pictures how the straps attached, but a look at the interior photo shows that they were sewn in on the inside, but then perhaps cut off at a later date to be made adjustable. There aren’t any holes, however, that indicate how they were attached after being cut off.|
|Here’s the inside. You can see the rough quality of the fabric. This was a stability layer and the lining would have been layed over this and tacked in place.|
|The back view (my apologies for not getting it all in the frame!) You can see that the boning pattern on the back is pretty simple, straight-forward verticals. The straps are set at a wide angle, so they would have been pretty far out on the shoulders.|
These, believe it or not, are the first pair of 18th c. stays I have ever seen in person. They were TINY, and ugly! Still, a fascinating bit of reference, particularly for that boning pattern. It shows that there was no hard-and-fast rules on how to make these things. We see similarities in shape and pattern, but also a lot of creativity in the way things were put together. I would love to see these on a body to see how the funky boning pattern effected the shape of the wearer.
Your comments (and corrections) are welcome! Please use these images any way you like, and if you fancy, please link back to me if you do. So what do you think of these, ladies?