What Are Those Knobbles on 1790s Stays?

May 7, 2018 5 comments
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!


  1. An interesting theory, and i look forward to the results of your experiments, especially a breakdown of the mechanics involved. Although, I think it would be easier to keep a sash in place with pins.

    1. You'd think, but after years of trying to keep sashes up with pins, they still sag. It's also especially hard to pin around your own sides and back and you need *a lot* of pins to keep those sashes up. Pins + pads seem like a good system - held up from the bottom and secured from the top at the same time.

  2. Oh I have always been fascinated by this one!! I made it up a couple years ago and it works perfectly for keeping ties and sashes in place on transitional pieces. I've yet to make the dress of the exact era to go over it, which would be less regency in style, but I have worn it under a sheer regency dress and it worked just as well and created a unique line.



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