Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Leather stays - mid 18th century

At Killerton yesterday I saw a pair of mid 18th century stays so, after asking, I took some photographs, the first four shown here. As I said I’m not the world’s best photographer. The label dates the stays to 1740-1760, and says that microscopic examination shows that they were covered in a yellow worsted fabric. This would seem to indicate that the leather was used as a stiffener, a substitute for boning.  What fascinates me is that they are patched, and obviously well worn. I know leather stays are a contentious issue in re-enactment, but these are nothing like the “beer tent” stays that some traders produce.
Interestingly the inventory of Edward Kitchiner, draper, of Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, 1713, shows that he stocked women’s and girls’ “bodyes and leather bodyes” (1) Styles in his work talks about “leather stays or bodies sometimes worn by the labouring poor,” but doesn’t expand upon this. (2)
There is an all leather pair of stays in the Nordiska museet in Stockholm, which are dated to 1763 and were owned by a Helena Olofsdotter, and I believe the museum has others. I also saw a pair in Worthing Museum last year, but although I took a photograph, the last one in this blog, I didn’t make any further notes.
1. Buck, Anne. Dress in eighteenth century England. London : Batsford, 1979.
2. Styles, John. The dress of the people of England: everyday fashion in eighteenth century England. New Haven : Yale U. P., 2007.

The stays in Worthing Museum


  1. You know, I've never actually seen a pair of reproduction leather stays. I wasn't really aware that anyone made them. So your mention of "beer tent" stays is kind of interesting, and, I have to admit, not something I really understand.

    But these are lovely to see-especially to see how worn they are, and how lived-in. Thanks so much for sharing! You have an amazing blog.

  2. Thank you for your kind comment Sarah. Beer tent stays are what get worn in the evening after the public go home, when you don't have to be authentic. I think they have more to do with decolletage, and men's fantasies than anything else. Daphne Hildson, a friend, commented that she had made a pair of these for her daughter years ago which "started a fashion for a while but got serious grief from people insisting they weren't authentic ... What goes around ..."

  3. oh haha! I get it now! Beer tent stays, as in worn in the beer tent... goodness, I thought it was some kind of reference to their form (like a tent dress?) I was evidently thinking MUCH too hard about it.

  4. What a nice blog you have!

    I'm Swedish and can confirm that Nordiska museet has at least seven pairs of leather stays and there are at least two additional pairs elsewhere in Sweden. The one you mentioned as well of most of the others are front-laced and seem to have been worn by peasant women. The generic "costume" for women of the poorer classes in Sweden and the 18th century were several petticoats, a smock with a boned bodice/stays over and not necessarily anything else. Well a cap, of course. There are mentions of peasant women going to church with "naked arms", i. e. arms only covered with their smocks.

    However, these leather stays were owned by a daughter of a priest and the cut is a bit different:

    There are also a pair of leather stays in storage that haven't been photographed, but are dated 1687-1720's. I would love to see them!

    I'm actualyy planning on making myself a pair of leather stays just because they seem to have been rather common in Sweden.

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  6. Any more sources or photos involving leather stays? Am looking to create a pair, but next to no information on it, other than they existed.

  7. Is the outside of these stays leather or wool fabric?

  8. Why I am asking, the National Trust description does not jive with the photos.

  9. I favor the actual publish. It truly is superb to discover a person explain in words out of your cardiovascular as well as high quality with this particular essential subject material might be very easily observed. Leather formal shoes