Thursday, 31 May 2012


The stomacher is the infill at the front of the gown, or as Randle Holme said, “The Stomacher is that peece as lieth under the lacing or binding on of the Body of the Gown.” (1688) According to Minsheu (1617) it is so called “because it covers the stomacke.” It was in and out of favour from the middle of the 16th century until about the 1780s, depending on the fashion of the time. The stomacher could hide a myriad of faults as in the 1580 comment “If a Tailour make your gowne too little, you couer his fault with a broad stomacher.” (Lyly)

 Early stomachers made for Queen Elizabeth I in 1576 were pasteboard covered in taffeta, but not all her stomachers were stiffened, she had others often of white satin decorated with silver and gold bobbin lace lined variously with fustian, sarsenet or camlet. (Arnold, 1988) These were possibly similar to the one in this c.1600 portrait of an unknown woman taken from Wikimedia Commons. By the time you move into the 18th century stomachers still run all the way from completely unstiffened, to solidly boned. A mid 18th  century stomacher listed in the Deliberately Concealed Garments Project is so degraded that all its layers can be seen: silk, backed with paper, a layer of whalebone strips held in place by a coarse linen, and then a block printed finer weave linen.  
Detail from a portrait of Queen Charlotte,
by studio of Allan Ramsey,
taken from Wikimedia Commons

The stomachers that survive are in many ways mid range. The highly bejewelled ones tend not survive because they have been broken up for the value of the jewels. The “rich diamond stomacher for our intended queen” described by the British Magazine in 1761, is not the one that appears below in this detail from a portrait of Queen Charlotte it shows instead a stomacher that is more likely to be gold or silver lace rather than jewels. A stomacher of this type from the 1740s survives in the V&A collection,( note that the online image is upside down). There is a similar metallic lace decorated stomacher of the early 18th century in the Los Angeles Museum of Art.

More commonly the stomachers that survive are heavily embroidered. A late 16th century survival is an unmade half embroidered stomacher in the V&A collection.  Another example from a hundred years later 1700-1720 is very narrow.. In this unusual example the embroidery is worked in straw. Sometime the stomachers are not embroidered but made of patterned fabric as in this 1700-1730 example from Platt Hall

Many of the embroidered stomachers have a meandered ground behind the embroidery, as in this example from 1700-1730 in the Platt Hall collection, and this c.1710 example in the Metropolitan Museum, and this mid 18th century example in the Embroiderers Guild collection. These meandering background patterns are similar to the type frequently used in 18th-century flat quilting, and a stomacher in the V&A from1730-1750 is entirely quilted with some cording.

Some stomachers have fake lacing as in this 1720s example and this 1740s example. It has been conjectured that this may have been to provide somewhere to tuck your neckerchief. (Hart, 1998)

A possible stomacher from the mid 17th seventeenth century of completely plain linen is in the Platt Hall collection, but there is very little information to confirm its use.
 
The stomacher could be held in place by the lacing, or by being pinned or even sew into place, and one of Queen Elizabeth’s mentions hooks and eyes. In the18th century some garments had fake stomacher fronts like the pet-en-l’air  of 1745-55 for which Arnold gives a pattern (Arnold, 1977) or the similar garment in the Platt Hall collection.
 
Arnold, Janet. 1977. Patterns of Fashion 1: 1660-1860. London : Macmillan, 1977.

—. 1988. Queen Elizabeth's wardrobe unlock'd. Leeds : Maney, 1988.

Hart, Avril and North, Susan. 1998. Historical fashion in detail: the 17th and 18th centuries. London : Victoria and Albert Museum, 1998.

Holme, Randle. 1688. The academie of armourie. Chester : s.n., 1688.

Lyly, John. 1580. Euphues . 1580.

Minsheu, John. 1617. The guide into tongues. 1617.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Pat,
    I discovered your blog recently, and I'm really enjoying it :-)

    ReplyDelete