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17thC - boned bodice or stays?

Posted: Sat Mar 29, 2008 1:41 pm
by ViscontesseD'Asbeau
OK I'm still trying to pick the bones (sorry) out of this one... And I know there's some experienced stay makers out there.... So what's your opinion?

I have an ECWS period outfit, cut would be pretty fashionable for mid 1640s... but also a late Tudor one that, because I'm no spring chicken, I can still wear for the 1640s. To make life easier - rather than bone the bodices, I made stays to wear under them.

Looking at Pat Poppy and Jane Huggett's books, it seems the concensus is - by the 1640s, you'd be more likely to wear a boned waistcoat (bodice), than a waistcoat with bodies under it.... especially if older. Also, class comes into play - Pat Poppy and others quote the James I edict that servants were to have no bodice "'of wire, whalebone, or other stiffening save canvass or buckram only'"

Jane Huggett says :
"...It is perhaps significant that the few mentions of bodies in lower class wills and inventories nearly always belong to unmarried and therefore probably young women... It is possible then, that outside of the gentry, it was mainly young unmarried women and girls who wore bodies, but more research is needed to confirm this....." [Clothes of the Common Woman 1580-1660, Part 2, p. 14].
Robert Morris puts it like this:
"...Strangely none of the other inventories mention bodies. Servants would generally be girlsd between early teens and late twenties and in the husband hunting age group. Could we be seeing the hot pants syndrome, a garment inappropriate for older women? Martindale indicates that gowns, which contained integral bodices, could be worn by women after marriage. One crucial change occurs to women's bodies at this transition, the start of childbearing with the associated frequent variation in the shape and size of the a need for easy access for feeding infants. It would be not unreasonable for there to be changes to the nature and design of the main body clothing to allow for these changes....."
[Clothes of the Common Woman, 1580-1660, Robert Morris, p61-2].
I'm not sure what to think. Adapting for childbearing is one thing but then, what for older women whose days of childbearing are past? Yet stays, in inventories, do seem to be associated with younger women. This brings us to our dilemma - whether to bone/use buckram integrally, within the top parts of gowns, and in waistcoats routinely - or to rely on wearing stays underneath... Regardess of age/social class being protrayed etc.

Anyone have an opinion on this? Stays, or boned bodices? Or both? I'm generally aiming at yeoman farmer's wife... and I guess the answer to the question has variables? I'm going to use buckram and boning on the bodice of the next gown - but don't want to abandon me stays just yet! And I do think the stays give a more dramatic effect even if they do manage to make me look fatter (which they do) I don't mind if I'm fatter but the right shape...

Also, another random thought.... Anyone with 'Corsets and Crinolines' seen the early 18thC stays (the court stays and Duchess of Richmond's on p.51) and say, the pattern for 1780's stays.... which are not that much different to, say the Elizabeth effigy stays... That implies a degree of continuity - that stays can't have vanished in the mid 17thC or the late 18thC ones wouldn't be so similar to some of the much earlier ones if there was nothing inbetween - if that makes sense? The more heavily boned waistcoats that have survived from say the 1630s-1660s, very few in number, are also extremely high status garments - does that mean the ordinary woman would have abandoned stays? And if most people lived in secondhand clothing, is it likely that 'ordinary' folks' clothes would be heavily boned, tailored and fitted in any case? Surely easier to achieve the shape with your own stays underneath.....

What's yous think?

Posted: Sat Mar 29, 2008 2:13 pm
by Tuppence

Stayes and boning in bodices were around.

The idea that older women wore nothing stiffened in your second quote does, I'm afraid, show a bit of a lack of understanding of female anatomy, as well as some other aspects.

If you look at contemporary pictures of all classes of women some sort of stiffening is used - there's no way they were that shape naturally.

If you take in to account the extant garments (admittedly generally upper class), then stayes and boned bodices both exist - v&a, museum of costume, platt hall, etc.

The idea that no stiffening at all was used also shows a basic lack of understand of how clothing works, too. Laced clothes simply don't work without some sort of stiffening, as the lacing bunches up without something to keep it straight (this could of course be stiff or sized fabrics).

But the extant pieces have boning in them.

I do think it's a problem when people write without taking into account al the sources, and only concentrate on the written - you only get a true picture (or as true as we can without having been there) when you look at all three types - written, pictorial and extant.

There's also the stuff in ribeiro about loose clothes being equated to loose morals (though I'd have to look up the exact quote - it's ages since I've done anything 17th c).
And was there any sumptuary legislation about the stiffening of bodices, etc. If there was it's a pretty good indication that it was commonly done, or there'd be no need for the law.

Posted: Sat Mar 29, 2008 2:45 pm
by Shadowcat
Pretty much what Tuppence says, with the addition - I have made the Duchess of Richmond stays, and the 18th century stays, although not the Effigy stays. However, there are subtle differences in the direction of the boning which makes an equally subtle difference to the body shaping. I do agree that it is unlikely stays disappeared entirely.

I just wonder if "not mentioned in wills" is entirely a valid argument. For example, as an elderly woman, I now no longer wear some of the more "fashionable clothes" I used to, and have given some to my DiL who is of a similar build. Is there any reason why an older woman, say, could not have passed on a pair of stays to her daughter/diL, without the need to mention it in a will? When I went through a phase of putting on weight, I abandonned my underwired bras as uncomfortable - same could maybe have happened with stays - just a thought.


Posted: Sat Mar 29, 2008 3:40 pm
by Tuppence
That's a good point - also they could have been given or sold to second hand merchants without there being a record of it.

Posted: Sat Mar 29, 2008 5:11 pm
by ViscontesseD'Asbeau
Yep I agree with both of you and glad it wasn't just my 'wishful thinking' that stays can't have vanished mid 17thC to re-appear in the late 17thC.

Also, am going to do some firsthand research in Yorkshire wills and probates as most of the info we're having to work with, seems to be from elsewhere - but in the meantime, I'm thinking I'm not sure if a prosperous middle-class (or posher) woman would leave her stays in a will, anyway - it's a bit personal isn't it? Like you wouldn't see people willing their knickers these days - but that's not evidence, for future historians, that we go pantless. :lol:

Posted: Sat Mar 29, 2008 5:20 pm
by Tuppence
Obv, esp with the lower classes, there's also the fact that lots of people, as now, would've died intestate.