The Fat Reenactress

The Fat Reenactress

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Leather stays....the Lower class option

post #12                                       Tues. March 31, 2015

Well, since I didn't get my Historic Sew Fortnightly project done (heck, I didn't even touch it today) I figured I'd share with you an alternative to the fully boned stays for 18th century.  For lower class impressions ...and I mean LOWER class, working class, dirt poor.... leather stays are a good alternative.

A view of my stays at the end of a loooong school day presentation. (2 days down!)
Here's a view of my leather stays. I want to state that you probably wouldn't be showing your leather (or proper) stays in public. Even in lower/working classes, a work garment would be worn over your support garment, whether it's a jacket, bedgown, or a plain work gown. Hopefully you can see in the picture that the leather stays are scored in a pattern very similar to the channels of boning in stitched stays. This allows the leather to bend and form to your body. This particular set has no shoulder straps, and lace in the back as well as in the front. You might be able to see the busk I have tucked behind the lacings up front. This piece of wood goes a long way in keeping the stays well formed. One problem with being fluffy is where my weight is...which is a large belly pooch. If I didn't have the busk to push down on my fluff, the leather would tend to flair up, making almost a ski slope effect. My boned stays do the same, so you will never see me wearing a support garment without the busk included. It's such a simple item....a flat piece of wood...but it really does help in the overall shaping. Not only does it prevent the ski slope effect at the bottom of the stay, but it also takes some of the strain off the garment itself. I found this out when I pulled the long busk out of my regency corset after a VERY long day....and the fabric immediately began to buckle under the...ummm...pressure of my fluff trying to escape it's confines....picture the very large Stay puff Marshmellow Man at the end of Ghostbusters. Yeah, kinda like that.

There are references in Peter Kalm's Travels in North America, where he was riding his horse along the countryside, outside of Philadelphia, and saw women working in the fields in just their loosely laced stays. Remember....they are doing HEAVY manual labor in the fields, thus the removal of the top layer and the loose lacings. But also remember....they are not in a "social" setting where they are expecting to see others. They are working, away from most eyes. I believe that Peter Kalm  remarks on this because it IS a peculiar sight to him.

Here are some photos of me wearing my leather stays underneath my working class outfits.
faded working gown with skirts cut shorter
packed and ready to follow the army'
selling used goods and stockings as a street monger

You can see in each of the above, that the leather stays do support, and do give you the lines that are similar to the fully boned stays. They are comfortable for the most part, but can get somewhat hot....or that may be the perimenopausal me talking....

The cost of leather stays are just a bit cheaper than regular cloth stays, but not by too much, unless you know someone who does leather work. I got mine years ago from Weeping Heart Trade company, and absolutely love them. I am pleased that they lace up the front and back in that when I do gain weight, I can distribute the weight gain evenly between the lacings so one gap isn't so big. I do have a problem with front lacings in that I'm anal about getting them to lace straight, to be smooth under my clothing. Since I am more of an eggplant shape, my bust is smaller than my my back lacings will always look like an upside down V.

One last perk of having leather can use them for Steampunk! :)

I can't tell you how many people asked me if they were wood! The coloration definitely gave them a wood effect.
the flamingo whisperer
So, here's an alternative for those of you wanting to portray lower working class, poor. In fact, rather than going without, you would see leather stays in use.

Hope this helps and gives you a cheaper alternative, especially if you are on an adventure to lose weight, and don't want to invest all the time and effort into stitched fabric stays. Just remember, these would NOT be worn with upper class gowns!!! (Greg Hudson from Weeping Heart told me that....looked at me and then said "pffft....look who I'm telling!"   I'll take that as a compliment.)


  1. Very interesting. I made a set of front lacing stays, and have that "ski slope" problem big time. I suppose I could put two busks, on on each side of the lacings... Otherwise I don't know how to solve that problem.

    1. Actually, if you get a wider busk, and put it behind the lacings, it should work. My lacings keep my busk in place.