Courtesy- New Jersey Historical Society, Newark, NJ, 1760
Stays, sometimes called a pair of stays, were a common woman’s garment in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Rather like a corset, stays were commonly worn under a dress to support and shape a woman’s figure. They could also be worn like a bodice as outer clothing over a blouse and skirt. Stays for a wealthy woman might be made of costly fabrics and have whale bone stiffening. Sometimes they would be made of fabric matching a skirt and actually serve as part of the top of a dress. The stays pictured here were utilitarian and may have been owned by a woman of more modest means. They are made of heavy linen fabric, closely stitched from top to bottom, with rows of thin slats of wood or cane sewn in. The edges have been reinforced with leather. They would have been tightly laced up the back with a leather lace and may have had shoulder straps. Young girls often wore stays like their mothers.
In the middle of the 19th century some women began protesting the fashion of wearing tightly laced stays or corsets. They adopted looser clothing and lighter weight skirts.