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 hand-sewn linen, and dating from 1730–60, this shift would have been 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; this example dates from 1778. 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.
Museum No. T.120-1969
Given by Mr and Mrs R. C. Carter