Monday, June 26, 2006

18th Century women's wear - Stays vs Jumps

In addition to my research on petticoat length I also have been researching jumps and stays. I found it very difficult to nearly impossible to do many tasks that a woman living in the 18th century would have to do. A woman who must take care of things, that is. My character is an active, working woman. She does not have servants who will care for her and do physical tasks as might a wealthy woman.

Stays, for those who do not know, are essentially a supporting undergarment. Both men and women wore stays, although they were primarily for women as I understand it. Stays are worn over a shift/chemise, but under outer garments, especially the upper body garment. Stays are a precursor to what we are familar with as a corset, however, they were not generally worn to the tightness used in the 19th Century, as shown in Gone With The Wind.

Stays do a number of things. They helped to give the body the then-ideal cylindrical shape to the ribcage. They help support the back. And they also support the bust. There really isn't room for the bust in them, which explains the rather shelf-like effect. They certainly will bring any cleavage to immediate notice!

The first pair of stays I had was a typical back-lacing style, without tabs. While I found that my back didn't hurt after a long day of spinning or cooking, by mid- to late-afternoon they started to hit my hips just above my waist, which was very uncomfortable. This is probably due to not having tabs, but I'm not sure, not having worn this style with tabs.

My breathing was also restricted, making hurrying for any distance or running impossible. Of course, with boning from bust to below the waist, I was prevented from bending over or moving very well.

So, how can a woman who must bend over, pick things up, work with large animals or otherwise move around and do things do this in stays? The conventional re-enacting wisdom of the time said "women wore stays". How can this be? I decided there had to be more to the story.

With help from dear friends who are expert researchers in the time period and location I'm interested in, Middleground Kentucky, 1775-1776, references were found to something called jumps. No extant examples had been identified or seen in museums (my friends visit a lot of museums looking for period clothing), but there were references to both unboned and lightly boned jumps. So what are jumps? How can we tell what they were? Some references were for jumps being purchased for a woman who was pregnant or nursing. Some just referenced along with other clothing purchases.

We poured over period artwork and began to notice certain things. We all knew what a woman wearing stays looked like, what sorts of limitations on her movement stays make. We were able to identify a lot of artwork of women who by their positions or the way they looked were clearly not wearing stays. So what were they wearing? We couldn't always tell, but many had some sort of upper body garment on over a shift, with a kerchief covering the bust area but then going into some kind of upper body garment. In most cases the arms were clearly only covered by the arms of the shift. These were all pictures of women doing some sort of work, from carrying baskets, to taking care of children.

Below are some pictures I've found of women wearing jumps. I will make another post with another picture and our modern recreation of it later.

Jean Siméon Chardin

The Laundress

Jean-Honoré Fragonard

A Young Girl Reading - this young lady is clearly not wearing stays. My best guess is that she's wearing jumps under her gown.
Education is Everything - This looks like jumps, or possibly a corset blanc, which leads me to the question is a corset blanc another name, perhaps the French name, for jumps?


Anonymous said...

I too have found references to jumps. My charcter, an individual in New France, would need a corset or jumps for everyday life. Alas, no pattern other than a lightly bonned bodice--which does not look right--or stays with lots of bonning and sholder straps. I shall keep looking.


Shelley McClanahan said...

If you have a garment that fits you closely, use that and make a pattern out of masking tape. You'll need someone else to put the tape on you for the best fit. I found that the garment needs to go up around the arms, leaving the bust supported right underneath. I made mine reversible as the extra fabric gives more support. If your bust is larger than a 'B' cup you may not be as comfortable, though. See my other post about jumps for some more info.

demiobryan said...

i read alot of books all about girls of 9 to 14. living in the 1775-1800's reading is all id o i my self have learned how they make stays and bonnets. all the books are called american girl series and dear america i love to read these books you can learn alot if you relize the message they send to you a girl i like is FELICITY MERRIMAN she is an AMERICAN GIRL and REMEMBER PATIENCE WHIPPLE she is agirl from the DEAR AMERICA series. YOU SHOULD TRY TO READ ONE OF THE SERIES I LISTED.

Shelley McClanahan said...

Thanks for the recommendation demiobryan. Historical fiction can be a lot of fun, and you can learn a lot from it. My goal with this research was to find historical documentation and use that to recreate the support garment known as jumps.

Anonymous said...

The young lady in "Education is Everything" is wearing a lady's waistcoat which was worn in informal occasions with family over or in lieu of stays. See Sally Queen's work on an extant waistcoat.

Shelley McClanahan said...

Thank you for the additional references. It is a challenge to understand what was done by people doing real work on a day-to-day basis. I've found stays to work OK for some kinds of indoor work, but my character does many kinds of indoor and outdoor work, and the stays do not work well for much of this work. A weskit covers, but does not provide very much support.

WordVixen said...

Hi! I know this is long after your post, but I thought that you might be interested in seeing this picture of embroidered jumps (it's only one, but referenced as "jumps"): It's filed under "18th Century Style" by an author that I'm following on pinterest. I was trying to figure out just what it was, which is how I landed here. :-) But since you mentioned looking for extant jumps... Well, I thought I'd post the link for you. :-)

Shelley McClanahan said...

Thank you for the link. The lovely garment shown looks what I would consider a bodice, which would likely be worn over a shift with either jumps or stays. The combination of jumps and shift give some bust support but not as much as stays. The bust is not covered by jumps, they fit just underneath and give some side support, holding bust in place with the shift and neck cloth.

Anonymous said...

I have a question for you, and I know this is way past this original conversation, but I'm hoping you'll be able to help. I've been involved with French and Indian war reenacting now for almost 10 years and didn't even think twice about lacing up some stays because I thought it would've been period correct. However we have a couple who are joining our group and she doesn't want to wear stays. Therefore, the argument has errupted into our group whether or not all colonial women wore them. I find it hard to believe that all women could one afford to have them if they were of a low station and two that they could wear them and accomplish their daily tasks like you pointed out above. What is your opinion on whether or not all women wore them?

Shelley McClanahan said...

Dear Anonymous,

There are inventory lists that list jumps and stays, so we know that both existed and that they were different. We also have pictures that show women in positions or activities that just aren't really possible when wearing stays.

Then as now, not everyone needed bust support, and in my experience if you are larger than about a 'B' cup you won't get much support from jumps. That said, jumps are much more comfortable and practical in most situations. If you aren't wearing formal type garb or you are doing some kinds of work, or nursing a child, stays are not practical. In those situations I believe that jumps were used and the comments and inventory lists we have support this.

Not all stays need to be fabric. My most comfortable stays are made from 4 pieces of alum tanned leather laced together. I used lucet cord, but leather or any other sort of lacing would work.

On top of all that, clothes indicate station in life. Not only may certain clothing be cost prohibitive, for lower class people to wear the clothing of their 'betters' could cause severe social and even physical repercussions.