Introducing the 1790's Stays

We have a new stays style! 


Ahhh, the 1790's. What a weird but delightful little moment in fashion. I love that modern costumers are giving this decade more attention, because there are some really lovely things to be found at the tail end of the 18th century. 

Theresa, Countess Kinsky by Elisabeth Louise Vigee-Lebrun, 1793 (Norton Simon Museum)

The Honorable Lucy Elizabeth Byng, 1799 by John Hoppner
The Honorable Lucy Elizabeth Byng by John Hoppner, 1799 (The Frick)

Portrait of Natalia Zakharovna Kolycheva, née Hitrovo by Elisabeth Louise Vigée-Lebrun, 1799 (Dallas Museum of Art)
Portrait of Natalia Zakharovna Kolycheva, née Hitrovo by Elisabeth Louise Vigée-Lebrun, 1799 (Dallas Museum of Art)

(I was a frequent visitor to this museum in high school...there's a bad pencil sketch of this portrait somewhere in an old notebook.)

We call this period "transitional" because it was a time of great change in fashion.  When we consider the monumental changes taking place globally at the time it is perhaps not so surprising that fashions shifted as well. The conical silhouette held on for several centuries and many generations. In the late 1780's, things started to shift. By the 1790's we see a raised waistline, softer silhouette, and more bust curve than fashion had allowed for centuries. In fact, the bust was rather "on display" and prominent. You can see this in several of the portraits here, where dress cut and drapery frame the bosom. This new silhouette required a different kind of stay. But fashions do not spring out of nowhere. A staymaker didn't wake up one day and create a wholly new corset style and aha! that was it.

Arabella Diana Cope (1769–1825), Duchess of Dorset by John Hoppner, 1790's
Arabella Diana Cope (1769–1825), Duchess of Dorset by John Hoppner, 1790's

When we look closely at late 18th Century "transitional" stays, some general characteristics become apparent: 

  • They were based on earlier patterns and styles. Seam lines, bone angles, and overall proportions mimic earlier conical stays.
  • They were lightly boned compared to the fully boned stays of their Grandmother's generations.
  • They accommodate the bust in some way. 

Beyond that, anything goes, really. We see stays that end below the waist, above the waist, with residual tabs and without, with gathered/ruched cups and smooth gores and and and...clearly the staymakers of this period were experimenting with different ways to solve this new silhouette in a comfortable way.

Victoria & Albert Museum

One of the best resources on this era of stays is J. S. Bernhardt's Sewing Manual, which Sabine of Kleidung um 1800 has graciously outlined and researched. This is an excellent look at this era of stays. I particularly love the sleek, minimal qualities of this style. Though I didn't go with this draft or pattern, it does create a lovely shape and re-creations yield beautiful results


I decided to pull from a variety of sources for our 1790's stays. I knew that I wanted a front busk after seeing the support that gave in several Bernhardt re-creations. Smooth, soft bust gores in just two layers of sateen and a drawstring top would allow for flexibility in sizing and a more elegant line under gowns than the ruched cups. For ease of fitting purposes, our stays end above the waist at sides and back like many from the period (plus sizing extends slightly out over the hip for more support). I omitted the waist tabs for economy and affordability.

For the actual pattern I tried to think about how a 1790's staymaker would have approached their work when women started asking for this style. Observing that many of these transitional stays retain the swooping seam lines and diagonal boning of previous eras, I simply adjusted our 1780's front lacing stays into an abbreviated, shorter, tab-less style. A few adjustments to edges, blending of seams, and addition of bust gores are all that is needed to move the pattern forward ten years. 

It really was that easy!*

*okay, it was slightly more complicated than that, and then there were the multiple mockups and fit adjustments and pattern corrections. But the basic pattern was already there waiting within my 1780's stays, just as it would have been in the period. And the front lacing pattern is tried and tested, which gave this project a jumpstart. 


Our 1790's stays follow our standard stock corset construction features with English cotton coutil strength layer, steel boning, and cotton sateen fashion fabric. I made sure to keep an alterable side seam and adjustable straps. Spiral lacing continued through this period, and so these spiral lace--with the concession of steel grommets for affordability. The 12" busk is removable, as with all of our other stays. 


 1790's stays are available for pre-order through August 31, 2017 in our full size range. With a price point around $250 (plus a $25 savings for pre-ordering) these are some of our most affordable corsets. We are thrilled to be able to bring this underrepresented style out front and center!


Corsets: Historical Patterns and Techniques, Jill Salen
Corsets and Crinolines, Norah Waugh
Kleidung um 1800 - Bernhardt stays analysis 
My Darling Dear and the Regency - Bernhardt stays re-creation
Wearing History - Regency projects including transitional stays
The Dreamstress - A quick guide to corset & stay styles from 1750 to 1850








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