Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Technical Topic -- Note about stays

Abigail Adams, in 1800, saw visiting Frenchwomen wearing Empire-style dresses in Philadelphia and wrote in a letter:

"The stile of dress ... is really an outrage upon all decency. I will describe it as it has appeared even at the drawing Room ... A Muslin sometimes, sometimes a crape made so strait before as perfectly to show the whole form. The arm naked almost to the shoulder and without stays or Bodice."

To me this says many respectable Frenchwomen were not wearing corsets or stays in my time period when they dressed à l'antique.


  1. This makes me so happy. (Not the stays or lack thereof, but that someone who writes fiction I read cares to research it and buck whatever stupid ideas the Amazon reviewers think is true). History is so much more complex than people seem to credit. I get so sick of reviews which slam historical accuracy--that are clearly written by clueless people. thank you for showing that things are always more or less than they might seem!

  2. Life is too short to write bad history, says I.

    Readers don't need to be experts in history, of course. Lord knows I'm not an expert in any period outside my own small field of interest. But I want readers to know I do try hard to get stuff right. I do my research. If there's an actual factoid in the book that's outright wrong, I feel dreadful about it.

    The whole underclothing debate is one of great interest, isn't it? *g* Period portraits and caricatures from France show fashionable women wearing little beneath the thin dress. But a private letter 'reporting' what's being worn is the best sort of evidence one may have.

    There's some evidence very fashionable Englishwomen were as scantily dressed in this decade, but I'm on less firm ground there.

  3. Christine10:40 AM

    I had always believed (based on the numerous portraits from the time) that this was the case- but I love hearing the first hand, scandalized report. The fact that it comes from Abigail Adams, one of my favorite "people" (if I may be so bold to state it that way) just makes it all the better. I would expect no other reaction from a lady with her true "Yankee" sensibilities! Such things just don't fly here in Puritan MA ;) Her birthplace just received it's first really generous infusion of money last year so it got some much needed repairs and renovations at long last. I'm really looking forward to visiting it again when it reopens.

  4. Like you, I've seen the portraits of, presumably, respectable women who were obviously wearing very little beneath the dress. Seen various prints of women in public wearing little.

    But I like to see this mentioned specifically and forthrightly in ordinary correspondence.

    I, too, am a great fan of Abigail. She seems to have had her act together.