“For neatness, true fitting, shape and fashion”: The craft and consumption of stays in eighteenth century America
This paper examines the craft and consumption of stays in eighteenth-century America. To date, most costume historians have only gone as far as to describe how women wore them and neglected the question of why. The social and cultural implications of wearing stays are greater than scholars have acknowledged. This thesis pushes the subject further than object analysis of material, construction, the stay making trade and their general use. Their study and contextualization is key to understanding the relationship between the bodies they changed and the social constructs that directed their utilization. It does so by exploring the cultural consequences of wearing the undergarment: understanding the public consumption of women's "stayed" bodies.
Stays functioned to refine the female body into an ideal physical form. Their almost ubiquitous use among women suggests that stays be considered a symbol of shared cultural values among women; one of personal and social refinement, while at the same time enabling a particular sense of self and social awareness. In short, the women who wore them adhered to a physical philosophy.
0386: Home economics