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  • Place of origin:

    England (made)

  • Date:

    1770-1790 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Silk damask, lined with linen, reinforced with whalebone, hand-sewn

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Messrs Harrods Ltd.

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Women’s underwear served two purposes in the 18th century. The first function, carried out by the shift or smock, was to protect the clothing from the body, in an age when daily bathing was not customary. Made of very fine linen, the shift was the first garment put on when dressing. Over the shift went the linen stays, heavily reinforced with strips of whalebone. Their purpose was to mould the torso to the fashionable shape and provide a rigid form on which the gown could be arranged and fastened. The hoops were also made of linen and stiffened with whalebone or cane. They shaped the petticoat of the gown to the appropriate silhouette. At various times during the 18th century, this profile varied from round, to square and flat, to fan-shaped.

Physical description

Wine silk damask stays

Place of Origin

England (made)


1770-1790 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Silk damask, lined with linen, reinforced with whalebone, hand-sewn


Height: 31 cm, Length: 81 cm, :

Labels and date

In her 1778 novel, The Sylph, Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire wrote: 'Poor Winifred... broke two laces in endeavouring to draw my new French stays close... Then they are so intolerably wide across the breast that my arms are absolutely sore with them; and sides so pinched! But... to be admired, is a sufficient balsam'.

Half-boned stays
Britain, 1770s
Silk damask, buckram and whalebone, lined with linen
Given by Messrs Harrods Ltd.
V&A: T.909-1913 [2013-2015]
Silk Stays

These stays are reinforced with parallel strips of whalebone along the upper edge, making them very wide across the breasts. The Duchess of Devonshire (1757-1806) complained in a letter from 1778 that a similar corset cut into her body and made her arms sore, 'But it is the 'ton' [fashion]; and pride feels no pain.'

Britain, 1775-85
Silk damask, buckram interlining, whalebone (baleen), linen lining
V&A: T.909-1913
Given by the Messrs Harrods [16/04/2016-12/03/2017]


Silk damask; Linen; Whalebone




Clothing; Underwear; Europeana Fashion Project


Textiles and Fashion Collection

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