Costume; Underwear; Underwear and accessories for shaping and supporting; Underwear (upper body); Corsets; Stays
Linen, whalebone, wooden busk
1780-1790. Brown twill linen half-boned stitched stays with shoulder straps and 18 waist tabs, lacing closed in back, interlined with plain-weave linen, and stiffened with whalebone, linen canvas, and a curved wooden busk to create a conical silhouette. The lining and the lacing cord are missing.
The stays reach from the middle of the bust to the natural waist and extend over the top of the hips with boned tabs. They come to a point at the bottom edge in center front. The top edge curves smoothly up from the front into the shoulder straps, and the back rises high to the shoulder blades where the shoulder straps tie in place. There are eight panels, two each of a center-front, side-front, side-back, and center-back. The fronts are cut with an integral shoulder strap and the other panels have integral tabs at the waist. All panels are interlined with a plain-weave linen, sewn through with narrow channels for whalebone stays. Each individual panel is completed before assembly into the garment, which is whip-stitched together. The front panels meet vertically at center to form a single deep rounded point, which is sewn together only for the first 12.4 cm / 4.875 in. The rest of the center-front seam is left open, exposing a wooden busk wrapped in brown twill. The back of the stays has ten eyelets per side from the top edge to the waist, staggered for a spiral lacing pattern to fasten the garment.
The whalebone used is about 0.3 cm / 0.125 in. wide and in varying lengths. It is positioned vertically, diagonally, and horizontally to shape the desired conical silhouette and runs into the tabs. Multiple patches of linen and buckram are basted and glued to the straps and top edge of the stays to further reinforce the garment and to cushion the cut ends of the bones. A 26.7 cm / 10.5 in. long wooden busk is pocketed between and behind the two center-front panels. It has a half-round profile for most of its length and curves in toward the body slightly below the bust, at which point it flattens, and tapers from 2.9 cm / 1.125 in. at the top to 1.6 cm / 0.625 in. at the bottom. It would originally have been further concealed and supported by the now-missing lining. Stays of this design usually have eyelets for lacing to draw the front gap together over the busk; instead this one has six long stitches of cord per side, and based on a similar pair of stays in another collection it is possible that a ribbon was laced through them.
The top edge of the stays and the shoulder straps are bound with one continuous length of 1 cm / 0.375 in. wide plain-weave linen tape. All the tab edges are also bound with plain-weave linen tape, and are then lined. A cream linen cord is whip-stitched in place on the outside of the stays to cover the seams joining the panels. Hand-sewn.
Length (front, to tip of tab): 27.9 cm / 11 in.
Length (back, to tip of tab): 39.4 cm / 15.5 in.
Bust: 86.4 cm / 34 in. (without gap in back)
Waist: 64.8 cm / 25.5 in. (without gap in back)
Gift of the Coe family. Descended through the family, owned and worn by Temperance Pickering Knight (1732-1821) of Dover Point, New Hampshire.
University of New Hampshire Library
Astrida Schaeffer, photographer/curator
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Corsets, Stays, 1780-1790, Dover, New Hampshire, United States, Twill linen, Brown (color), Panels, Plain-weave linen, Whalebone stays, Linen canvas stiffening, Wooden busk, Boned tabs, Buckram, Spiral lacing, Shoulder straps, Temperance Pickering Knight, Janet Coe Stearns, Margaret Coe Ninde, Sarah T. Coe, Anne Coe Curry, Coe family, Coe (donor)