We’d been working on the stays patterns solidly for three months, emailing almost every day. To get to spend three days together together to trade ideas in person: what a treat!
And, to make it even better, our third roommate, Cait of Willoughby and Rose, was one of the testers of the pattern.
We wanted to show off the stays, so we hatched a plan: dress up as some of the most famous depictions of 18th century stays: the strawberry seller and other street vendors from Wheatly’s ‘Cries of London’.
Wheatley was a landscape and portrait painter who worked in Ireland and England, and was elected into the Royal Academy in 1790. Unfortunately the politics around his election put him out of favour with most artistic patrons, and he received no major commissions after 1790. Instead he completed a series of paintings showing the street vendors of London, and their cries. They were dismissed at the time, but ironically his ‘Cries of London’ have gone on to be the work he is most famous for.
Each work features a different crier marketing their wares: some alone, some with customers. Wheatley was the son of a tailor, and the works show an interesting range of clothes – presumably accurate for working life. However, how accurate vs. idealised the works are is unknown: it’s almost certain that his wife, fellow artist Clara Marie Leigh, was the principal model for every young, attractive female vendor.
One of the things the paintings do show which tallies perfectly with mentions of working class clothes in the 18th century, was the use of stays as perfectly acceptable bodices for working women. They weren’t underwear in the modern sense: they were support garments, and if it was more comfortable to work without a jacket, then there was nothing improper about not wearing a cover over your stays. While most of the series shows women in dresses or jackets with petticoats, two, ‘Strawberrys Scarlet Strawberrys’ and ‘Old Chairs to Mend’ show women in shifts, petticoats, aprons, and kerchiefs with stays.
So, riffing off the idea, Amber, Cait and I wore our Augusta Stays with shifts, petticoats, and aprons.
How to make it more fun? Give away strawberries and cherries!
I put out a message and asked if anyone coming to Costume College could lend us baskets – and was overwhelmed with assistance. Costuming women are the best. Show up to an event with a length of fabric and safety pins, and they will get together to make you look amazing. Ask for help in the run-up to CoCo, and so many people will offer. It was a wonderful reminder of what an amazing community it is. One lovely, lovely person even sent me a gift basket full of goodies, so I had a basket and treats!
Thanks to all the amazing offers, we had baskets aplenty, and thanks to Whole Foods delivery, we had strawberries and cherries.
I copied Strawberrys Scarlet Strawberrys pretty closely, because one of two petticoat-suitable linens in my stash was strawberry pink (I really wanted to be ‘Turnips and Carrots, Ho’, because who wouldn’t? But carrots are hard without water and I can’t imagine turnips would have been popular!). And it was the perfect excuse to pull out my ‘brown’ linen shift – ideal for a working class woman!
My apron was a lucky find: one half of a hand-woven scarf from Palestine, hemmed and stroked gathered to a cotton tape. Not seen are my bugs and birds pockets – but they were useful for room keys and money and other not-so-18th-century bits. Petticoat, apron, and pocket were finished with assistance from more amazing Wellington costuming friends – more costumer love in action. Also not see are a bum pad and a silk organza petticoat to give me the necessary skirt poof. The latter isn’t at all accurate, but is a helpful cheat for skirt volume when luggage allowance is not your friend!
Cait did perfect 18th century Sleeping Beauty with her outfit. Her hat is by Virgil’s Fine Goods, and I’m pretty sure all of her fabrics came from Burnley & Trowbridge. I know for sure her stay fabric, the most amazing finely woven wool, was. Both her shift and Ambers are from her Willoughby and Rose line.
Amber looked adorably sweet taking photos to model her stays:
And then pulled down her hair and formed ‘awful’ bangs to imitate the hairstyles that you see in 1780s and 90s prints for the rest of the day. We were quite delighted with how hideous they were, because that’s exactly how they look in period prints!
Walking around offering people cherries and strawberries was the perfect way to spend Sunday at Costume College. Everyone’s tired and hot (it was above 90F) and a little over classes and everything, and it was a great excuse to talk to a lot of random people – including all the hotel staff, who got included in our fruit distribution.
And, best of all, after 5+ hours of stay wearing, and 3+ of lugging baskets of fruit (and my big pro camera and small camera and wallet and a couple of water bottles and…) around, my feet were sore, and my arms were bruised, but my back and waist were completely comfortable, and I wasn’t even excited about taking the stays off and putting on only one layer of clothing.
And that’s how comfortable the Augusta Stays are!
You can buy the Augusta Stays pattern here.
You can read more about the Cries of London here.