Thursday, January 12, 2012

At Long Last

So, happy 2012, everyone. I'm a bit late to the party, but it's not because I haven't been working on things! For me, 2012 is shaping up to be all about the Bicentennial--of 1812, of course. I'm starting from the inside out with big plans for an 1812 wardrobe, one which I hope will carry me through the next few years as the 1812 Bicentennial really gets off the ground.

Over the years (six-ish), I've made and worn several types of stays in the style of the 1790s-1810s. After six years, you'd think I'd have this down to a science, but I have yet to find a perfect regency support garment. One of the first historical garments I ever made was a pair of regency long stays, based on a diagram from Jean Hunnisett's Period Costumes for Stage and Screen. I was an extreme novice, and let's just say the result wasn't ideal. I made two versions--one was too long, and it dug into my thighs when I sat down. One was too short and it gouged my hips. The short stays I've tried were better, but none of the three pairs I made had quite the support I was looking for. They've lasted me a good long time, but this year I want to find The Perfect Pair. What it boils down to is that my criteria for my newest stays effort is:
  1. Ample bust support
  2. Smooths out belly
  3. No leg gouging
  4. No digging in anywhere, if possible
As my friend Ginger pointed out, ladies back then had the same issues I do. Some of them had large busts. Others had solid thighs. Most likely, none of them wanted their underwear to make them look like a domestic abuse victim. So what did they do? Quickly, Robin: To the primary sources!!

German Copy of a James Gillray cartoon, c. 1810

This is the first one I found. The original Gillray image was a satire of the long corsets that women wore, showing a stay coming down past a woman's buttocks and obviously being quite restrictive. This one interested me though because of the line over the hip--and, tabs. This is the only example I've seen of a tabbed long corset in this period, and seeing as it's a reprint of a satirical cartoon, I think it should be taken with a grain of salt. However, as commented on my previous entry, there were women back then who had these same issues, and they had to figure out something that would work for them. This at least shows that in someone's head, the over-the-hip curve and tabs to spread over the hip fullness made sense, even in 1810 when long tabbed corsets had gone out of style.

La Fureur des Corsets, c. 1809

So this made me really excited, because here are four women wearing long stays, easily recognizable as your somewhat-typical style, and yet--check out the bottom edge. Every single one of them cuts up above the fullness of the hip and rear, while still coming down far enough in the front to smooth out the whole line of the torso.

 Le Fureur des Corsets, c. 1809, closeup

In the closeup image, you can see the woman on the left a bit better; her stays don't even come down over her hips in the back. On the right, hers come down a bit farther, but they still have that intriguing front point, while clearly still showing the busk like you see on all those straight-across-the-bottom styles.

 From Side Saddle

Credit for this find goes entirely to Samantha who first suggested the idea of a riding corset, and then turned up this extant example within 10 minutes of first mention. I don't know that I want to do a full-on riding corset, but it does show that there were definitely examples of stays that cut up over the hip, and still had a busk. Frankly, I wouldn't be caught dead riding sidesaddle, but the extra mobility would be great for doing other activities, too.

 Costume Parisien, c. 1813

Courtesy of Nuranar's collection of fashion plates, which might be my favorite regency clothing reference ever, we have one more example of stays that are not straight across the bottom. These are cut a bit lower over the hips than the ones in Le Fureur des Corsets, and shaped with gores, but for sure higher in the back than in the front.

Still with me? Good! So with source material acquired, the next thing is patterning. Based on the images above, I'm going to try for a long stay with center front busk, bust gores, and a curved line across the bottom so that I get freedom of motion over the hip (aka, ability to sit, etc, without pokage) while still getting a smooth line down the front. That's for a new post, though!


  1. Fantastic primary sources! I feel like my biggest goal in costuming always seems to come down to not getting things to poke. Thus far, I have never succeeded...maybe this will be the year for both of us!

  2. That sounds like a wonderful project and I'm looking forward to following your progress.
    It's lovely that there are still so many "new" things to learn about Regency clothing!


  3. I've made a couple of pairs of stays for earlier period costumes and I love long fronts and shorter backs. One thing I've learned is that I'm much more comfortable if I don't bone the back. Whatever improvement the boning might make to my back line is not worth the discomfort. Of course you have to stiffen the closing edges if it has back lacing, but the thing can turn out just fine without any other back boning.

  4. Do bust gores work well for the well-endowed? I'm pretty new to the world beyond Simplicity, so all my period undergarments are off the rack, and I've been daydreaming about pieces that fit a bit better. But I have no idea what works! I'll be looking forward to your posts about your new stays.


    1. They seem to work well enough; the thing I always have to make sure of is that the entire bust cup area is adequately supported. IMHO that's easier to do with gores than with a pieced or seamed-in cup.

  5. Really interesting post. I've made wrap stays before (unboned with a removable busk) but have recently started on some 'short' stays based on the wrapstay pattern they sit just above my hips like the lady on the left in the Le Fureur des Corsets image. Nice to know I'm on the right track.