Monday, October 31, 2011

Achieving a proper fit with Regency stays.

There’s been a spate of discussion flying about the ORS for a little while now. Mostly it’s a discussion on how a set of Regency stays ought to fit, and how does one compensate for special issues, like more endowed ladies, or wide hips, etc.

The first misconception by anyone who’s accustomed to making corsets from other periods is that Regency stays should be shaped and fitted like a corset.  Of course they should fit you, and of course they should rest along your curves, but a Regency corset has really nothing at all to do at all with shaping a woman’s body. It’s one of the only style of corset in the long line of historical undergarments that is not at all designed to change the shape of a woman’s body. A woman’s ‘natural form’ was the aim (except with a little levitation). It is designed to hug the natural shape of her chest and torso. The Regency corset should wrap tightly around the torso, it should be stiffened with some boning or cording to keep it from crinkling up on you, and have good shoulder straps.

I say this often in posts about corsetry.  The boning in your corset has absolutely zilch to do with shaping or lifting. The only purpose of any type of boning or cording is to keep the fabric of your stays or corset taught.  Otherwise, without the boning, your fabric would fold and crinkle up on itself when you move around.  What gives you shape, and what creates support is the *cut* of your corset. So it’s important to make that distinction and not rely too much on boning to get you the results you want. It’s a supporting role, not the star. The pattern and cut is the star.

Hopefully my drawings don't look too terrible. :)
In all truth, the Regency corset is designed purely for lift.  That’s why there are so many styles of Regency corset (see an overview of the styles of Regency stays and underpinnings here)—because shape from the empire-waistline down, is largely irrelevant. Some women prefer long stays because they have a bit of a belly they want to control, and granted, if you have rather large breasts, you’re better off with a longer set of stays and a busk to divide and keep the center top of your stays against your chest.  Stays range from being no more than seven or eight inches long (almost to the traditional bra-dimensions with shorter straps) to hip-length. As long as your stays are doing what they were designed to do, it doesn't matter how much length is added, how much boning you stuff into the channels , how much cording or whatever else.

The NUMBER ONE thing you have to know and remind yourself when making your stays is that the empire waistline is KEY. You mess with that, you will have problems.  Your garments are designed to fit around this elevated waistline which runs directly under the base of your bust, and if you are not getting the proper lift, or your gussets are too low, your gown’s cut and placing will suffer.

There are three key points on a Regency set of stays that you must always address when constructing from a pattern or drafting your own;  1) a clear waistline, with the breasts securely held aloft above it. 2) Well measured shoulder straps. The length of your straps will determine where your waistline falls, remember that. If your straps are too long, your stays will drop down below the chest-line and mess with the fit of your gown. 3) The gussets—which are pretty important and should be designed to cup and hold the lower hemisphere of your breasts.

Gussets are key.  Some people believe that with larger breasts, you should lengthen your gussets, which means, deepen the cups, and place your breasts closer to where they naturally rest, right in the middle of your waistline.  Gussets can be somewhat lengthened if you do it intelligently, and you cut an arc in the cup before you cut the slits in for the gussets.  The trick really is to WIDEN your cups if you want to accommodate larger cup sizes. You should be building sideways, not up or down.  You are broadening the platter in which your bust should lay, instead of deepening it.

There are a couple of ways of giving that top binding of your cups the strength to cup the bosom. You can install a drawstring along the front of your stays to bring the edges of your ‘platter’ in, or you can bind it tightly so that it pulls the fabric in by itself. I’ve also seen some designs where the creator made cutouts for each breast rather than gusset slits, and then make gathered/ruched half-cups to fit into them wherein their bosom can nestle.

Now many women are concerned about ‘spillage’.  The rule of thumb is this, your gusset cups should not cover much more than the lower half/hemisphere of your breasts. The nipple should be just barely covered by the edge of your binding, or even half-covered.  The top half of your breasts should be pillowed in the cups.  What keeps them from falling out is the neckline of your shift.  The shift is an essential partner in the team that is your Regency underpinnings, and it acts like the top half of your bra.  You really should not wear one without the other.

    However you make your stays, if you keep in mind the above key points.
    1. Cut your gussets or cups to cup the lower half of your breasts, beginning above the empire waistline. 
    2. Your straps should be short and should hold your stays in place Protect the high-regency waistline 
    3. Use the shift’s drawstring neckline to retain the upper half of your breasts. 
    4. Use a busked corset if your breasts require dividing, or they are large enough to push the whole construct forward with just boning.


    22 comments:

    Steph said...

    Fantastic explanation and great illustrations! All your posts are so helpful and informative, but of course the costume-related ones are my favorites.

    Sarah Jane said...

    Okay, so I LOVE this post. I keep coming back to this site over and over for the purely educational and practical application aspect. I'm looking at having to make a new set of stays for next season, so this is very timely for me. Since Victorian was my first era to dabble in, I've always had trouble just leaving the regency long corset lightly on the figure and focus just on support. I keep wanting to cinch in the waist, which creates the wrong shape. THANK YOU! LOVE your drawings and illustrations. They are SO helpful!

    Hungarican Chick said...

    Wow! Thanks for the feedback! I'm always wondering if my posts are really helpful! It's good to hear that they are. I appreciate your comments and feel free to propose new ideas for posts whenever you please. :)

    Kleidung um 1800 said...

    I truly enjoyed this post, as I think the undergarments are really essential to create the perfect silhouette.In my opinion the same effort that usually goes into a dress should be spend on the underpinnings, too!
    Thank you for sharing!

    Sabine

    Anonymous said...

    Thank you for this post! This answers nearly every question and uncertainty I've had about making my own Regency stays. I have a larger bust, so this will help me fit my stays when I make them. Now I know that when I put on my stays and look down, if my eyes go like this O.O, then I've done them correctly. Lol.

    Adica

    Sophia Rose said...

    Very good explanation! It answered many questions for me.

    Thanks for the post.

    Meg said...

    Great illustrations! Absolutely worth a thousand words. I love love love this blog!

    I would love to see more fitting help (or alternatives) for ladies with very small busts -- I'm a 28 or 30 B and at my size the whole concept of a gusset is a bit of a joke.

    Le Bombette said...

    This is such a great post! It's so frustrating to see people going to the trouble of making stays and then wearing them incorrectly. It's all about the shelf ladies...small, medium or large. :) Absolutely spot on and instructional illustrations as well! Thanks!

    Dani C said...

    Excellent analysis of how the stays work, and so clearly stated. The supporting graphics are spot on. So much of great fashion of any era involves fitting it to the person. Thank you so much for posting this!

    Lyric said...

    Bravoooo, bravoo!! This article is a boon to thousands I am sure. I have been intimidated at the thought of making my own stays but have recently decided to "just do it". This information has forwarded my cause considerably. I now know this is doable.

    My pattern of choice is the Mantua-Maker Regency Stay pattern. I understand there will be more information there as well.

    Me and the "girls" thank you for sharing this expertise.

    Adventures in Dressmaking said...

    Stephanie, what a great post! And I've seen it linked now from several blogs and the Sense and Sensibility page! You are a great resource!

    Underbust Corsets said...

    Very Nice. I love this post

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    razu osk said...
    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
    mizj said...

    I just came across this article via Pintrest.
    Absolutely fabulous! There is information here that I had never come across & I thought I was reasonable well versed in Regency attire.
    I have mainly made Regency gowns for theatre where it's wasn't necessary to use authentic underpinnings, so finding this was perfect timing as I have been making a set of Regency stays for myself (I'm taking part in the Historical Sewing Fortnightly Challenge) & thought I'd made them wrong, as the gusset barely covered my nipples.
    Thanks so much for the help with finishing my corded stays.

    aeflinn said...

    What would you do if you have large breasts but a small ribcage and there isn't any room for a busk? Or does the busk not sit between the breasts?

    Anna W Bauersmith said...

    Thank you for this very helpful article. I had a pair of short stays draped for me. How do I "seperate" with the lacing in the front? I've boned this area but don't think it will completely sit flat. (Nothing ever does.)
    Thanks in advance!
    Anna

    Super Fan Evie Cotton said...

    Ok now I definitely know that I need to PURCHASE. my stays. Where would I do that?

    Frances Grimble said...

    My book The Lady's Stratagem: A Repository of 1820s Directions for the Toilet, Mantua-Making,
    Stay-Making, Millinery & Etiquette contains a large amount of original information on making quite a number of styles of stays for the period, with diagrams and instructions. Details are at www.lavoltapress.com.

    Juliette said...

    I am very petite and have small 'girls'. Would short stays be best? I am not a very experience sewer, and want to give this a go. Cording seems very daunting to me, but I guess it had to be done, right?!
    Thank you for this post!!

    Juliette said...

    I am very petite and have small 'girls'. Would short stays be best? I am not a very experience sewer, and want to give this a go. Cording seems very daunting to me, but I guess it had to be done, right?!
    Thank you for this post!!

    Oregon Regency Society said...

    Hello Juliette, the answer is yes, short stays will work beautifully for you. You have the ideal body for Regency garments, petit with modest girls. :) You do not have to do cording if you do not want to. The Sense and Sensibility small stays pattern is relatively easy to do (the hardest bit are the gussets, but they are manageable). You can just put it together simply, and add embroidery, cording embellishments later on, whenever it suits you.

    Oregon Regency Society said...

    I also recommend that you look at the following post: http://oregonregency.blogspot.com/2010/06/overview-of-regency-stayscorsets.html for tips on what type of corset works best for what body type.