Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Gestational Stays: The Research

You would think, what with women spending so much of their time pregnant and with stays being such commonly preserved extant items (compared to, say, non-quilted petticoats), that finding images and extants would be, if not easy, not exactly difficult.

Unfortunately, there's not a whole lot out there to go on when it comes to researching how to make gestational stays.  There is, however, ample enough evidence to show that they existed.

First--there's really no good way you can wear clothes like this unless you're wearing some type of stays:

"The Man of Business" from the Lewis Walpole Library.  More on this print here.

The, ahem, busy gentleman on the left is of less interest here than the bevy of pregnant ladies on the right, all of whom are wearing gowns.  Aside from protruding bellies, the gowns have the characteristic 18th century shape--meaning the women must have been stayed to wear them.  Plus, to make your pre-pregnancy gown wearable, you need the back and sides to fit--which means wearing it over stays.  There were other options (see this fun article from Historical Williamsburg) but from what I've seen and what common sense tells me, continuing to wear stays for all or most of pregnancy was probably the norm.  The other options--for instance, quilted support garments--are interesting, but even less prevalent than gestational stays among images, written snippets, and extants for me to assume that they were common.

Then there are a few examples living out there of gestational stays.  First, the Kyoto museum used to have a great example of stays with side-lacing up, but it's since disappeared--and of course before I managed to swipe an image for my research file.  Second, there's a great image and breakdown of an extant garment in Jill Salen's Corsets.  I've been unable to find digital images to link to, but it's a pretty widely available book via library loan (and is also relatively inexpensive, and has tons of other great corsets to study/swoon over).  Basically--it's a c.1780 pair with some fun vertical and horizontal boning detail that has an additional set of lacing at either side.

Finally, there's the famous image from Diderot:
Figure Three shows "Bodies for pregnant women laced by the two sides at A"
So it's almost impossible to see in the dainty little illustration, but the stays are pretty much identical to Diderot's two other pages of stays variations, except that they have an additional lacing along the side.

What did all these examples have in common?  They seemed to take the predominant shape of the era they were made in (Salen's example is later than the Diderot) and split them at the sides with an additional set of lacing.  After much deliberation--do I try to model my stays after a particular example?--I decided to use my own pattern, but split them at a point that made sense.  This was, after all, pretty much what all the original examples seemed to do.


Let's also kick a misconception to the curb real quickly, too--despite medical doctors at the end of the 18th century decrying how awful stays were to a developing fetus, there is no reason to assume that most women were tight-lacing over pregnant bellies and putting their health and their babies at risk.  In fact, the way gestational stays are constructed makes them no more constricting than modern maternity jeans if worn correctly, and the support granted to the lower back is probably an advantage.  So why did doctors bring it up?  In my opinion they were either arguing against tight-lacing in general, or jumping on the "no stays is healthier" bandwagon that changed right along with fashion (and, ahem, didn't really change before...).

Next time: my gestational stays and how they're put together.

2 comments:

Cassidy said...

Let's also kick a misconception to the curb real quickly, too--despite medical doctors at the end of the 18th century decrying how awful stays were to a developing fetus, there is no reason to assume that most women were tight-lacing over pregnant bellies and putting their health and their babies at risk.

It's always funny to me that people will make fun of all the medical theories etc. from before ... right now, pretty much, but take all "corsets ruin your health" stuff at face value, like that's the one thing they just happened to be right about.

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