Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Closet Histories no. 4.3: The Stomacher


Today on Closet Histories we are going to focus on one individual item of 18th century dress, the stomacher.

The stomacher was a (most often) triangular shaped piece of fabric pinned to the front of the stays to fill in the front of an 18th century gown. These pieces could be made of the same fabric as the gown to match, of a contrasting color fabric, or even be nearly entirely metallic for more formal wear. Elaborately embellished and embroidered stomachers could be worn with several different gowns making them a versatile investment in a woman's wardrobe.

In addition to the fabric stomachers we will be admiring today, there were also stomachers made entirely of jewelry which would have been worn over (pinned or sewn onto) a fabric stomacher for even more "look how crazy wealthy I am!" sparkle. Stomachers could be embellished with embroidery, metal spangles (early sequins), fly fringe, pleated and puffed fabric and ribbon trim, or even intricately quilted.

The style of stomachers evolved with the styles of gowns, meaning that later when the zone front style gown came into fashion stomachers had to change shape and evolve too. Later in the century gowns began to extend to close in the center front more and more; these gowns didn't require a stomacher as those earlier in the century had. As the formal court francaise still required a stomacher, the item did not disappear entirely until the revolution in fashion (and France) at the very end of the 18th century.

Early 18th century mantua with metallic stomacher. 1708, MET.
The early (1708) mantua style gown above shows how an early 18th century stomacher would have been worn to fill in the front and neckline of a gown. A heavily embroidered and metallic stomacher could be worn with different gowns meaning the wearer did not have to invest in several stomachers for her wardrobe.

The same stomacher as pictured with the gown above. 1720's, British, MET.
1700-1750, French, MET.
1730-1750, British, V&A. Quilted.
A common style for the early half of the century with false lacing across the front. 1720, British, MET.


1730-1750, British, V&A.
With this court gown, an entirely metallic stomacher is worn over a matching blue silk. The stomacher is very similar to the silver stomacher below. 1750, MET.
Photographed upside-down, triangle pointing upwards, I don't know why? 1740-1750, British, V&A. Silver bobbin lace.
1725-1775, British, LACMA. Gold metallic bullion embroidery.
1775, French or Italian, LACMA. Silk ribbon and fly fringe.
This gown from the 1760's shows how the stomacher had evolved from a versatile garment meant to match any gown, to a matching garment that continued the harmony of the gowns design. Stomachers like this with center front buttons could be either functional (the buttons and buttonholes actually worked) or non-functional (with the buttons sewn on just for decoration). 1760, MET.
Poor quality photo, the Manchester City Gallery's online collection search is currently down for renovation. 1770-1780, Manchester City Gallery.
1760-1780, British, MET.
1770, National Trust Collections.
1770-1780, Italian, MET.
Once you look at all of these stomachers in semi-chronological order like this, it is easy to see how the styles shifted around the middle of the century. The later stomachers are more likely to match a gown and are less metallic. These could just be day gown stomachers though, as sparkle still reigned the night through the second half of the century! Next time we will take a look at gowns from the second half of the 18th century!


All of the information for this post has been gathered from the textbook Survey of Historic Costume (5th edition) by Phyllis G. Tortora and Keith Eurbank, from the links above or my own knowledge. I want to share the resources I come across with all of you as much as possible. The portraits or extant artifacts used to illustrate today's post are credited to either the museum where they reside (whenever possible) or the source where I found them, and are linked via their fig. # underneath. Again I repeat my disclaimer that I am not a historian, and if you have corrections or additions for this post, please begin the discussion in comments as I would love to learn more!

1 comment:

  1. Your description of bejeweled stomachers made me smile ear-to-ear. That really was the case indeed and it would, natch, have usually been followed with at least one painting being commissioned of her ladyship sporting it for posterity (so that future generations could know that they were rolling in it, too :)).

    ♥ Jessica

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