Tag Archives: corsets

Lace Up Tight – In Corsets, Stays or Jumps?

I was puzzling the other day over whether it would be more correct for my heroine to be wearing a corset or stays – or what exactly jumps were – so I did a little research.

To begin with Stays: the Oxford English Dictionary has “Stays (also a pair of stays). A laced under-bodice, stiffened by the insertion of strips of whalebone (sometimes of metal or wood) worn by women (sometimes by men) to give shape and support to the figure: = CORSET.”

The word is used in the sense of ‘staying’ something – securing it or holding it firm.

The earliest use given is 1608 and the use of the plural “is due to the fact that stays were originally (as they still are usually) made in two pieces laced together.” Presumably in the same way that we speak of a pair of drawers, which used to consist of two separate legs tied at the waist.

As for the Corset, the OED goes back to 1299 for the first use of the word, although that was a medieval outer garment. The earliest example they give for it as an undergarment is in The Times for 1795 – “Corsettes about six inches long [presumably this means the depth top to bottom], and a slight buffon tucker of two inches high, are now the only defensive paraphernalia of our fashionable Belles.” From the spelling and the timing it would appear that this term comes via the French and relates to the light, often uncorsetted, Empire fashions of the Revolution. They also quote a patent application of 1796 for “An improvement in the making of stays and corsettes.”

And finally Jumps. A jump was man’s short coat (17th & 18thc) also used generally, in the plural, for clothes, especially in country areas. But also a “kind of under (or undress) bodice worn by women, esp. during the 18th century, and in rural use in the 19th; usually fitted to the bust, and often used instead of stays. From c.1740 usually as plural jumps (a pair of jumps).” Oxford English Dictionary.

They seem to have been laced at the front, often had shoulder straps and were only lightly boned, if at all. This made them particularly suitable for women performing manual work and for nursing mothers.

A pair of jumps can be seen here c. 1770. The jumps are on the far left, with a corset hanging next to them.

For those British ladies not following extreme French fashion, the ‘long stay’ was the most used until about 1810. It is well illustrated in the satirical drawing at the top of the page: Gilray, Progress of the Toilet: The Stays published in February 1810. It laces right up the back (with one lace), covers the hips and is made to cup and support the bust. Unusually for this early date the lady is wearing knee-length drawers.

The fabric for long stays was jean (a strong twilled cotton) or buckram (a stiff cotton or linen soaked in a size such as wheat starch).

At this period, before the mass production of metal eyelets, the lace holes were simply strengthened with buttonhole stitch and would not take the strain of ferociously tight lacing. Shape therefore depended a great deal on the original cut of the garment and on its stout cloth and boning.

Many styles of stays were invented, experimenting with various fabrics for more flexibility, support and comfort and some stay-makers advertised more than fifteen varieties.

The extreme compression of the long stay gave rise to various health concerns, to say nothing of discomfort, and from about 1810 the short stay came into fashion, along with the ‘Divorce Corset’ designed to push the breasts apart.

Even with the short corset, there were critics. C. Willett Cunnington quotes one (unfortunately without attribution) as ranting in 1811: “…in eight women out of ten, the hips squeezed into a circumference little more than the waist; and the bosom shoved up to the chin, making a sort of fleshy shelf disgusting to the beholders and certainly most incommodious to the wearer.”

By September 1813 Jane Austen was writing to her sister Cassandra with the latest fashion news from London. “I learnt from Mrs Tickar’s young Lady [presumably her lady’s maid], to my high amusement, that the stays are now not made to force the Bosom up at all: that was a very unbecoming, unnatural fashion.”

The short stays were much more like a modern bra and did nothing to restrain the stomach or hips. A French pair from 1810 are shown above in a print designed to show how easy they were to put on.

This pair, for which I do not have a source, are laced up at the front.

The advertisements in La Belle Assemblee show how stays were promoted, with makers striving to differentiate their products.

In February 1809: “The much approved entire new Cotton and Brace Corset, invented and made only by Misses Linckmyers, No.12, Frith-street, Soho-square….entirely obviate every inconvenience frequently attending long stays…”

In April the same year these two adverts appeared:

Mrs Barclay is also operating in Frith Street, a short distance from the Misses Linckmyers. Not only are her corsets ‘fashionable’, but they are also ‘cheap’ and the increasing desire for comfort can be seen in the reference to ‘the simple vest’.

After all that my heroine is definitely opting for a short corset, if not a nice comfy pair of jumps!

5 Comments

Filed under Fashions, Shopping, Women

The Road to Waterloo Week Five – The Allied Troops Gather While Mrs Bell Corsets the Corpulent

Bells Weekly

On Easter Sunday, the 26th, Bell’s Weekly Messenger stated that no-one had arrived in England from France since the 20th March and that most of the information about Napoleon’s invasion that had been reported so far had been inaccurate. Almost half the newspaper (an 8-page journal) was devoted to news of Bonaparte, and had the facts up to his arrival in Paris more or less correct.
The journal reported that dispatches had been sent on the 23rd from the Admiralty to all the ports in England and speculated that this was giving orders for a general impress of seamen, while every regiment of the line was under orders to prepare for active service and were expected to be marching to the coast to be embarked for Belgium.
Meanwhile, amongst the entertainment offered to Londoners this week, were two of a martial nature looking back to past Allied victories against the French.
At Sadler’s Wells: “Easter Monday, a new Scotch Dance composed by Mr Ellar, called a LOWP AN’ AWA’ – A new Pantomime (by Mr C. Dibden, music by Mr. Reeve) called The MERMAID; or Harlequin Pearl Diver – Clown, Mr. Grimaldi. A new Musical Piece, written by Mr C. Dibden, called LAW’S TWO TAILS; or Entail and Red Tail. Signor Francesco Zanini, from Paris, will make his first appearance in England as an Equilibriste Philharmonique. To conclude with a Naumachia on Real Water, representing the Battle of the Nile.”
At the Panorama, Leicester Square: “Just opened, a VIEW of the LAST BATTLE fought by the ALLIES, near the Butte St. Chaumont, previous to their entering Paris; with a view of the City, and Montmartre in the distance. The splendid BATTLE OF VITTORIA will continue for a few weeks. Admittance to each painting, One shilling. – Open Ten till Dusk.”
Mrs Bell, aMrs Bell adt her shop, the Magazine des Modes, 26, Charlotte Street, was advertising her Bandage Corset for pregnant ladies and those “inclined to Corpulancy”, while, for the more slender ladies, The Circassian Corset, made “without superfluities of Steel, Whalebone or Hard Substances, are declared by Physicians to be the only Corset that should be worn, as they give Ease, Gracefulness, and Dignity to the Shape, which no other Corset is capable of.”
Monday was the annual Lord Mayor’s Banquet, preceded by the grand procession from Mansion House to Christ Church, Newgate Street to hear a sermon preached by the Bishop of Oxford. The toasts at the banquet included, “Church and King”” (considerable applause), “The Prince Regent” (“the approbation expressed by the company did not appear to be so strong as on former occasions”) and “The Duke of York and the Army” and “The Duke of Clarence and the Navy” (to great applause.) the dancing commenced at 10 o’clock and continued until “a late hour”. The image below (from Ackermann’s Repository 1810) shows the portico of Mansion House on the right and Cornhill stretching away in the middle of the scene. The Bank of England is out of sight on the left and the royal Exchange is behind the buildings in the centre.

 

 

Mansion House
In Friday’s paper, an enterprising furniture salesman managed to get the following inserted as editorial: “The rage for French furniture and elegancies has been very prevalent amongst the Nobility and higher classes of this country, who have made large purchases at Paris, which, from recent events, it is probable they will never receive, this will of course enhance the value of what is to be sold next week at Mr. Squibb’s.”
On Wednesday the 19th, Wellington left Vienna to take up command of the combined armies. On Saturday, April 1st, it was reported from the Brussels papers that “the march of troops through this town is incessant” and that 50 ships had already arrived in Ostend, full of British troops. Londoners could be left in no doubt that the situation was now serious.

3 Comments

Filed under Buildings, Entertainment, Fashions, Napoleon, Prince Regent, Waterloo, Wellington

Jane Austen, Stays and Elegant Fig Leaves

At this time of year, when we are all thinking about shedding as much clothing as possible in the heat, I think with even more sympathy about the layers of clothing that women were encumbered with in earlier years – and corsets, or stays as they were more usually known in the early 19th century in particular.

Stays could be made of leather, which was then not washed (a fairly dreadful thought!) or a substantial fabric, which at least could be laundered. Stays normally laced at the back but, before the invention of mass-produced metal eyelets, they could not be pulled as tight as Victorian stays were because the fabric would rip. Their shape and their constricting powers therefore depended on their stiffening of whalebone or thin cane. They pushed the breasts up rather than cupping them and were normally fitted with shoulder straps.

ImageThe print by Gillray is plate 1 from a series called The Progress of the Toilet, dated 1810 and shows a lady being laced into long stays. She is wearing fashionable clocked stockings and, rather daringly, drawers, caught in tight at the knee. Because they resembled masculine costume, drawers were considered very fast.

Jane Austen’s letters contain virtually nothing on the subject of underwear, but she did have very definite views on the subject of stays. In September 1813 she was able to pass on the latest intelligence from London on the subject  to her sister Cassandra. ‘I learnt from Mrs Tickar’s young Lady, to my high amusement, that the stays now are not made to force the Bosom up at all; that was a very unbecoming, unnatural fashion.’

Stays could be made to measure, but were also available off the peg and Mrs Clark, whose shop was at no.56, St James’s Street, advertised in 1807,  ‘…a large assortment of corsets of every size, and superior make, so that ladies may immediately suit themselves without the inconvenience of being measured.’

Ladies living out of town could order stays by mail order as this advertisement from the Morning Chronicle of November 1 1810 shows.

HER MAJESTY’S STAY-MAKER. – MRS. HARMAN No.18 New Bond-street, London, has the honour most respectfully to announce to those Ladies who attend to the elegance of the female figure, that she has now ready for their inspection a very large and fashionable assortment of her much-admired LONG and SHORT STAYS. The great number of Ladies of Rank and Fashion, who honour Mrs. Harman with wearing her Stays, is a most convincing proof of their pleasantness, utility, and superiority to every other Stay. Mrs. Harman’s Stays are finished with that novelty and taste which has procured for her the countenance of Royalty, and the patronage of the first Nobility. Ladies living in the country, by sending a letter (post paid), will have proper directions sent them to send their own measure, so as to insure their fitting.

Newspapers were not constrained by notions of modesty when commenting on ladies’ fashions and undergarments, or their appearance in them as this piece from The Times in 1799 on the flimsiness of fashionable gowns and the fashion for false bosoms shows:

“If the present fashion of nudity continues its career, the Milliners must give way to the carvers, and the most elegant fig-leaves will be all the mode. The fashion of false bosoms has at least this utility, that it compels our fashionable fair to wear something.”

And The Statesman on 2 September 1808 broke into verse to criticise modern fashions compared to those of the days of Queen Anne, managing to incorporate a furniture pun about chests and drawers in the process!

 When panoplied in whalebone stays,

Such as were worn in Anna’s days,

Our fair kept Virtue in their breasts,

And lock’d her safely – in their chests.

 But, since their chests are open’d, how,

And where, do they keep Virtue now?

Is she protected by their lawyers?

Or do they keep her – in their drawers?

Historical re-enactors have told me that they find their stays are supportive, and help prevent backache when they are working in kitchens, so perhaps there was something to be said for stays. What do you think?

 

 

6 Comments

Filed under Fashions, Royalty, Shopping