18th Century baby stays - rare and so cruel
This oh so tiny undergarment might be viewed as a doll item, but it is not. It is for a baby, one year old or less - so cruel!
Linda Baumgarten, in her book 'What Clothes Reveal' [See Links and Research for full reference], shows us a small number of baby stays, two of them being almost exactly the same size as this one. One she describes is just 14.5" at the chest and 13.5" at the waist! [Page163/2011] She tells us that infants were placed into stays from the age of three months old. Shocking, and not, as I always thought, to underpin their gowns, but to actually shape the torso permanently, into the expected posture for the 18th Century woman.
This makes me think of Chinese traditions of bound feet, but with stays the shoulder, back and chest are moulded to a different shape than natural for a growing child. Possibly even worse than the Far Eastern practice of binding feet.
My stays compare to the one's photographed in Baumgarten with a total width of 15", a back depth of 5.5" and the centre front depth of 5".
They can be identified as baby stays because they are constructed with far more detail than doll stays [which were still realistic but had less stitchwork involved due to their minute proportions.]
My stays are really quite plain, again, typical of others which have survived. Interestingly, the fabric used for the shoulder straps have a slight pattern in the weave, and match the back fastening bands on the main piece, so some attention was paid to decoration, but very little.
They are functional and serve a purpose. I love Baumgarten's book, which emphasises how important these plain garments can be when studying textiles from history: 'A minor, rather plain artifact can display masterly techniques' [P38/2011]. How right she is! And so much cultural and social history of life in the eighteenth Century.
The stays are constructed in the typical shape of the 18th Century, with a type of shield shape front and straight backs. They are so closely stitched in tight rows throughout, some of the rows being vertical, and others diagonal.
Then between each row of stitching, a baleen is placed through the funnel created. The centre front baleen are wide, as are the two at the centre back opening, whilst all the others seem very narrow. But narrow or wide, the entire garment is stiffened with baleen and must have been so uncomfortable for an infant to wear. Painful!
One hint is provided for a notion of kindness to the child; the lining of the stays are a far finer and softer linen than the exterior, tough and made for strength.
I have examined one such garment before and it was just the same as this. But I do not recall it having tabs below the waist. In this one, it is just possible that there were two further tabs between the centre front and back. [These tabs would sit on the hips]. But I cannot be sure. To one side, the waist sewing appears a little undone, but the other, matching side appears untouched. So, the boned and elongated back tabs which go below the waist at the base of the eyelet fastenings would certainly have kept the mid back straight!
I also have a baby stays of the Regency period, equally fascinating. To be shown shortly!
You can find this garment in my shop, together with the condition. Thank you for reading!