Last fall I shared a post about the replica leather stays that were being made at Colonial Williamsburg. Following historical examples, the stays were made by leather-workers Jay Howlett and intern Emma Cross for two of CW's apprentices: blacksmith Aislinn Lewis and tinsmith Jenny Lynn. When I wrote more about Jenny's 18thc clothing on Monday, reader Adam Cyphers asked if there was an update on how the leather stays were working "in the field."
The answer is a little mixed. In the pictures above, Aislinn is wearing her stays. As a woman working in a physical trade, she might well have worn the stays like this as an outer garment, and without a bodice or gown over it. Yes, stays were undergarments in the 18thc, but since they were always worn over a linen shift and not against the skin, it wasn't scandalous to wear them like this; it was considered practical.
Jenny's stays weren't as successful, with the original measurements just enough off to make them uncomfortable to wear for a full day's work. Because the stays are cut from single pieces of leather and scored instead of seamed, there isn't a way to adjust or modify them, and the stays are now being used for display in the Margaret Hunter Millinery shop, left. As you can see, however, Jenny did wear the stays long enough for them to begin to assume her shape.
While Jenny waits for another pair, she's wearing a different kind of stays that were popular with working-class women. Hers are stiffened not with whalebone (baleen) strips - used in the more expensive stays of the 18thc - but with thin oak splints that are also used in basketmaking. These stays are Jenny's favorites for everyday, and for now, they're more comfortable, too.
Top: Photographs ©2015 Colonial Williamsburg's blog, Making History.
Below: Photograph ©2016 Susan Holloway Scott.