Sunday, July 17, 2011

Stays for the Very Young, c. 1770

Sunday, July 17, 2011
Susan reporting:

We've discussed stays, the 18th c. version of a corset, here at the TNHG, and we've also discussed stays for young Georgian children here and here. But these are the first photographs that we've been able to share that show children's stays being worn as they would have been 250 years ago: over a linen shift, and ready for a gown to be worn over them.

The purpose of 18th c. stays was not to compress and narrow the waist, but to shape and support the figure.  Stays share none of the health perils and physical restrictions caused by the tight-laced Victorian and Edwardian corsets in the next century. While stays do rely on layers of stiffened, stitched fabric reinforced with bones of baleen, wood, or cane splints stitched into channels for their rigid shape, a correctly fitted pair should not be uncomfortable.

Both young girls and boys wore stays. The goal was to improve the posture, a way of helping achieve a straight, genteel figure. The recommended fit was likened to a fond hug. While modern parents might find the idea of stays for children horrifying, their Georgian counterparts would be equally appalled by the thought of their child being clad in the harmfully disreputable ease of a t-shirt and sweatpants.

The pair of 18th c style stays worn by the young model here was made by the mantua-makers of the Margaret Hunter shop, Colonial Williamsburg, who also kindly supplied these photographs. The photographer also reports that the model was much more interested in the day lilies than in being historically correct. For more photos, including step-by-step pictures of how the stays were constructed, please visit the Margaret Hunter Facebook page here.

Above and below: Replica child's stays in style of 1770. Photographs copyright & used by permission of the Margaret Hunter shop, Colonial Williamsburg.


joanne said...

Interesting post. There's a huge gap between the ideals of 18th century and modern parenting. But whatever the gap their children's well-being is their aim.

Rebecca May said...

I am pleased to see this post here on your blog. There was a HUGE ridiculous uproar over these pictures on facebook!

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Yes, it is amazing how often and how dramatically the idea of "what's best for the child seems to vary! Every generation seems quite confident that what *they* believe or do is the only proper, correct way. Which is the reason for the "HUGE ridiculous uproar" on Facebook that Rebecca May mentions. If you haven't followed the link, it's worth a jaw-dropping look. :)

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Quite by coincidence, these portraits by American artist Joseph Badger (1708-1765) were posted on another site today. From the shapes of their bodies, all of the girls and two of the boys are likely wearing stays beneath their gowns. Remember, too, that young 18th c boys also wore skirts; in the last portrait in this series, the child in grey is a boy, and so is the child in olive green in "Portrait of James Badger."

Caroline said...

Wow, that Facebook thread is pretty shocking (AHL, you don't need an account to see it -- I don't have one). This is interesting, like kids now who wear braces to correct scoliosis, etc.

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