18th Century Women’s Stays

Last updated: Jan 7, 2024

The Galerie des Modes (1778) offers some interesting commentary on stays:

People have complained much, these days, against this interior part of Ladies' dress. Some Doctors have alleged that it is disastrous, especially for the young; others have wanted to to establish its use among old men; but despite all these complaints, Ladies continued to wear stays, and they have not become weaker, nor less well-made. Experience demonstrates, to the contrary, that well-proportioned stays are nearly always useful; its only imperfection can make it dangerous.

Stays are of diverse types; some have straight straps; others have off-the-shoulder straps: these only serve for Court dress, and always lace in the back. There are also stays without straps, these are heavily used in England; they lace in the front or the back, or on the sides, like the first.

The two sides and the back of the stays are composed of several fabrics sewn together, with whalebone. On the front, there are two channels to pass two other whalebone stays through: these are called the busks …

This fitted garment is placed immediately on the shift, and it is to it only that women derive their torsos' rounded shape, pointed at the bottom; a unique shape, and which always, before marriage, can be regarded as one of the distinctive attributes of honor.

Textiles noted with entries below are generally the exterior fabric, unless the lining-fabric is unusual.

(Children’s stays can be found here; there are also notebook pages on women who aren’t wearing stays and women with exposed stays.)