18th Century Leather Stays

18th Century Linen Stays
18th Century Linen Stays

I was surprised to find out that leather stays were often worn by poor and working class women in the 18th century. I thought that leather would’ve been too expensive for lower class 18th century women. But leather stays were obviously the cheapest stays for 18th century working women. If other types of stays were too expensive, then leather stays were worn.

I haven’t made 18th century leather stays yet. I’m still researching more about them. But 18th century leather stays are on my sewing list! 🙂 For the leather stays I want to use the same pattern that I used for my 18th century linen stays (in the photo above).

Related: 18th Century Linen Stays

Antique 18th Century Leather Stays

I found many extant 18th century leather stays at the Nordiska museet. Antique 18th century leather stays were either made of thick leather and unlined. Or they were made of thin leather and lined. The lining of the leather stays was usually plain-weave or twill linen fabric.

Cheaper leather stays were made of brown calfskin leather – the leather of the stays could be plain or embellished with stamping (embossing) or carving (engraving). And more expensive leather stays were made of white or cream-colored chamois leather. Chamois leather stays, like this or this, were not worn by 18th century working class women.

Surprisingly, antique 18th century leather stays were often stiffened with iron rods at the center front! 😀 I always thought that corsets weren’t stiffened with metal before the Victorian or Edwardian era! In addition to the metal boning, antique 18th century leather stays could also be reinforced with reed.

Antique 18th century leather stays usually had leather shoulder straps and closed at the center front with spiral lacing. All the 18th century leather stays at the Nordiska museet are front lacing only.

Here are 1760s unlined brown leather stays, mid- to late-18th century brown leather stays1750s brown calfskin leather stays, late 18th century brown calfskin leather stays and brown leather stays with attached bumroll.

And here are two more antique leather stays, both are unlined, made of heavy brown leather, with scoring to imitate stitching lines and close with back lacing: antique 18th century heavy brown leather stays and 17th century fabric-covered leather stays. And in the Colonial Williamsburg Collection are unlined 18th century leather stays made of heavy brown leather: these leather stays are made in four pieces joined with lacing at the front, the back and the sides. And here are great reproduction 18th century leather stays by Thread-Headed.

Leather corset were still made after the 18th century: Here’s an 1880s brown leather corset at the MET museum and a 1900s black leather corset at the LACMA museum.

18th Century Quotes About Leather Stays

‘Stays made of bend-leather are worn by all the women of lower station in many parts of England.’ (Domestic Medicine Or The Family Physician, 1769)

‘The girls [are clothed] with a coif, band, leather-stays, a gown and petticoat, an under-petticoat, stockings and shoes, value 20s.’ (A New View Of London, 1708)

‘An Account of the Rates of Cloathing Poor Children belonging to Charity-Schools. […] The Charge of Cloathing a Girl. 3 Yards and half of blue long Ells, about yard wide, at 18d. p. Yard, makes a Gown and Petticoat […] A Coif and Band of fine Ghenting – A Shift – A White, Blue, or Checquer’d Apron – A pair of Leather Bodice and Stomacher – 1 Pair of Woolen Stockings – 1 Pair of Shoes – A Pair of Pattens – 1 Pair of Buckles – 1 Pair of Knit or Wash Leather Gloves’ (The Methods Used For Erecting Charity-Schools, 1715).

‘The Pauper is to be cloathed in the uniform of the house. […] For the Women and Girls, each to have, Two gowns, and two petticoats of linzey, of the same drab colour with the mens and boys cloaths. One pair leather bodice, one baize petticoat. Three shifts, three day caps, and three night caps. Thre coloured aprons, and one white ditto. Three coloured handkerchiefs, and one white ditto. Two pair of shoes, two pockets, one hat. The Aged to have a cloak, the same colour of the gown, if necessary.’ (Rules And Orders Established For The Relief And Government Of The Poor Of The Parish Of Walthamstow In The County of Essex, 1780)

‘But how the stays were made before the commodious material of the whalebone was found in the year 1593, does not appear; it is probable that slit pieces of cane, or of some tough and pliant wood might have been in use before: and probably most of the lower people wore leather doublets and stays, or boddice, for cheapness and duration, which was a considerable part of their entire cloathing, as is even worn at this day by numbers of labouring people.’ (The Laws Of Masters And Servants Considered, 1790)

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