What Are Those Knobbles on 1790s Stays?

From “Corsets and Crinolines” by Norah Waugh – see those nobbles? What are those nobbles for? Read on… 

Have you ever wondered about those weird round knobbles and pads on late 1780s-1790s stays?

What are they for?

I have a theory…

The first thought is that these pads are there to hold the skirts out. The size, shape, and various placements of the pads do indicate that purpose, but I think there is another function too. I believe the pads also keep the sash in place.

Whitaker Auction – silk corset, probably spanish, third quarter of the 18th c.

If you’ve worn any kind of empire waist gown – 1790s, 1800s, or even modern – and tried to tie a sash around that high waist, you’ll be very familiar with chronic sash-slip.

Sash-slip is the bane of all Directoire historic costumers. So how do you solve it…and how did they solve it? I think the pads on the stays stopped those sashes from sliding down, especially with the transitional gowns between the late 1780s and mid-1790s where the waist was rising gradually but wasn’t up to the under-bust yet. Keeping a trendy sash tied in place around your rib cage, well, easier painted than lived.

Victoria & Albert Museum, stays, c. 1790. T.237-1983

The next step is to do a little experimental archaeology…let’s see how well the dood-dads work!

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