1780 Red Wool Stays and Panniers, British.
Wool backed with linen or canvas, stitched with linen thread reinforced with strips of whalebone, lined with glazed linen, bound with linen twill tape, fastened with plain weave linen tapes and decorated with silk braid and silk ribbon. Phalanges, or fingers, spread over the hips to give support. Side panniers, or hoops, are made of cane.
via Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK. collections.vam.ac.uk. Credit: Given by the family of the late Mrs Jane Robinson. Museum number:T.192-1929
Back-lacing stays with a high narrow back with a wide curving decolletage and V-point in front, about 5 cm below the waistline. Decorative white lacing and white silk braids on centre front which is wide at the top and narrow at the bottom. Below the waist there are 19 tabs, or phalanges, or fingers. Laced through 13 eyelets at back. Compartments for the strips of whalebone are 4 – 5 mm wide, running vertically and diagonally. Centre busk of whalebone about 2 cm wide. Shoulder straps have an eyelet and extend from the front and fasten with tape at each shoulder back.
Stays were an essential item of underwear for women during the 18th century. By the 1780s, the fashionable torso consisted of an inverted cone shape. Achieving smoothness of profile and firmness of contour were the primary function of 18th-century stays, rather than emphasising the bust or constricting the waist. Although custom-made and very intricately designed, stays were usually very plain. On these stays a simple silk ribbon and linen tape serve as decoration and functional finishings.
The narrow rows of very fine, even handstitching form the compartments into which thin strips of whalebone were inserted. Although the stays appear very rigid, whalebone was quite flexible. It had the added advantage of softening with the heat of the wearer’s body, allowing the stays to mold to her shape. When worn, the shaped and boned tabs at the lower edge would splay over the wearer’s hips, giving further fullness to the petticoat tied at the waist over the stays.