Confessions of a Costumier: Please STAY!

I just read a great article from the blog Two Nerdy History Girls that I just had to share.  This is an interesting (and usually well-researched) blog written by a couple historical fiction writers, and it’s always a good read for those who enjoy learning about historical clothing and lifestyle.
 
The article that inspired me to post is on 18th-century ladies’ stays and how to lace them.  Follow this link to see their article, which features images of a Colonial Williamsburg interpreter putting on her own stays!  For anyone who has tried wearing REAL stays (not those torturous Victorian corsets), getting into them is the most difficult part.  But once you’ve done it a few times, it gets much easier and FASTER – I’m speaking from my own recent experience!! 
 
The images above and below are of my first attempt to make stays using a pattern from Reconstructing History.  They are definitely amateur, full boned with a mixture of metal and reed pieces.  I also made slight changes to the pattern, and we are working on resolving But they work and have held up admirably, and if someone who had been sewing for less than 6 months could do this, ANYONE CAN. 
Trust me ladies, the time spent getting into your stays is worth it for two reasons: 1) in my opinion, they are actually comfortable and give some great back support, and 2) it completely CHANGES how you look and move in your period clothing.  I will offer up myself on the altar of the Guinea Pig.  Check these shots of me in my modern “foundation garments” and then with my circa 1700 Stays…
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
See the difference!  It changes your silhouette completely!!  In my stays, suddenly the gowns that WERE hard to find in my size and felt  awkward to wear became the right size and a good fit!  I can’t encourage you enough to try them. You will notice a difference in how you feel, how you walk, stand, sit… and the visitor will notice too.
 
Pennsbury is starting to make our own stays and will slowly be increasing our collection.  They will be partly-boned with bendable reeds, so that interpreter and craft demonstrators will have the flexibility they need to move and work.  In fact, we will eventually have enough for all female volunteers to be able to wear stays!  Our standards for researched authenticity have always been high, and we’re working hard and taking our clothing program to the next level.   You all work so hard to learn your informative talks and trade skills… our clothing volunteers want you to know you’re dressed in well-researched and well-made reproductions!!  
 
Stay tuned for more posts on stays and other new clothing items in the collection!
 
 
Written by Hannah Howard, Volunteer Coordinator and Amateur Costumier!
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