Manchester Art Gallery

corset & stays & stomacher

Object description

Red satin over linen twill, edged with pale blue silk ribbon. Stays: shaped back section, sides continuing round to front with nineteen pairs of holes stitched in blue silk, extending to blunt-pointed waist, six tabs over hips and back, 2 plain satin gores between tabs at each hip; shoulder straps from back with hole at each end to tie to holed tabs at front; narrowly spaced stitching in blue silk, vertical down back, oblique at sides; straps and front laced with more modern lacing; seams at back covered and centre front panel outlined with metal thread braid; edges bound pale blue silk ribbon, some (probably contemporary) repairs in pale blue grosgrain ribbon. Stomacher: curved top and blunt point, central bone and one bone each side, narrow vertical stitching in blue silk, braid down centre front, and across top. Probably worn by Dame Elizabeth Filmer and they are inscribed in ink near the shoulder with an 'E'. The Filmer collection comprises of a group of textiles and garments that once belonged to Sir Edward Filmer Knight and his wife, Dame Elizabeth (daughter of Richard Argall Esq.). They lived in East Sutton Park in Kent and were married for 44 years. During their married life they had 9 sons and 9 daughters, Edward dying on 2nd November 1629 and Elizabeth on 9th August 1638.

Display label

The corset as we know it today developed in the fourteenth century from the "cotte", a close-fitting woman's stiffened underbodice. From the fifteenth century, this became known as a "body" or pair of bodies, and by the seventeenth century the usual term was a pair of stays. These could be stiffened with cane or whalebone, creating a flattened front with the breast pushed upwards and not separated. The firm front of the stays could be covered with a decorated stomacher or else the stays themselves might be displayed. Stays were always worn over a linen shift or chemise, never next to the skin, and this protected them from inner dirt and minimised rubbing or chafing from the rigid edges. It was, of course, almost impossible to wash stays which were constructed from so many different materials. This striking pair of red stays from the Filmer Collection dates from the second quarter of the seventeenth century, and has a matching stomacher which could be laced in place. These are the earliest stays in the collections. The pale blue stays are from the 1770s and show the similar rigid formal shaping provided. The later brown pair are from about 1840 and have much more emphasis on the waist; by this date the French term corset was prevalent. The prints show a woman being laced into her stays around 1815, a male dandy about to be strapped into his stays, and a farmer's wife wearing stays over a skirt as she serves at table. Padded underbodices for children were still called "staybands" although they later became known as "liberty bodices".