Obsolete Fashion: Could You Stomach It?

Madame de Pompadour

Portrait of Madame de Pompadour: Illinois State University, Illustration: Swillvill’s 18th Century

A stomacher was a triangular or U- shaped piece of fabric worn by women from about 1570 to 1770. In addition to connecting the two sides of a woman’s bodice, the stomacher, which could be adorned with ribbons, bows, lace, embroidery, and jewels, served a decorative purpose. Because it fastened to the bodice with ties, pins and tabs, or hooks and eyes, one stomacher could be switched out for another whenever the wearer wanted to “transform” her gown.

Over its two-century lifespan, the stomacher’s structure shifted to reflect current trends. In the late 16th century, stomachers were built of wooden slats or whalebone supports that created the stiff, rigid look that was popular at the time. In the early 17th century, stomachers and skirts were softer and more “flowy,” in accordance with the era’s favored silhouette. During the mid 18th century, lavish stomachers became all the rage, especially in the “échelle” style. This design was popularized by Madame de Pompadour, the mistress of French King Louis XV, and consisted of rows of bows that tied down the waist.

What do you think? Cast your vote, and/or leave a comment below!

Could you stomach a stomacher?

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  1. Sarita 03/19/2010 at 11:10 am #

    Love these “obsolete” fashion posts!

  2. Natalie B. (ModCloth) 03/19/2010 at 11:23 am #

    Those sound painful! You basically could not bend over at all with wooden slats down your front, unless it was in a very awkward manner. Noooo thank you!

  3. jill 03/19/2010 at 12:13 pm #

    these posts totally take me back to my college costume design courses… thanks for the memories!

  4. Dionisia 03/19/2010 at 12:15 pm #

    These history fashion posts are fun and informative! Thank you for posting them!

  5. Leslie 03/19/2010 at 1:42 pm #

    I always loved the idea of the stomachers from the mid 18th century… I think I’ll have to go and watch Doctor Who episode ‘The girl in the fireplace’ about Madame de Pompadour now! 🙂

  6. Livi 03/19/2010 at 3:12 pm #

    how interesting! i love historical fashion.

  7. Victoria 03/19/2010 at 4:33 pm #

    For starters, it is not impossible to bend over in a stomacher. It is only matter of adjusting your bodies way of movement to the 18th century way. You could still bend from the waist, and it is actually much more graceful than you would imagine. Stomachers when used properly in conjunction with a good set of stays actually served to keep womens backs in relatively good shape.

    Another thing I should point out is that certain features of the stomacher still exist in fashion. just take a look at the Terraced Crown Dress.

  8. Hilary 03/19/2010 at 9:02 pm #

    Yay! I’ve learned some new ‘fun facts’ for the day.

    I quite like that ‘In the early 17th century, stomachers and skirts were softer and more “flowy,”’. Does this mean that they made the stomacher look more like a mid-section normally would?

  9. Katie R. 03/20/2010 at 7:49 am #

    For starters, Victoria, no one said “impossible.” Did you miss “unless it was in an awkward manner”? Which is pretty much what you described. Why do people always have to get so snippy! Yeesh!

  10. Jayme 03/20/2010 at 11:18 am #

    This sounds like something I would love to try on, parade around in for ten minutes or so, and then get the hell out of!

  11. Jen (ModCloth) 03/20/2010 at 11:40 am #

    Hi Hilary,

    I think the “softer” stomacher was probably a little like the mid-section of a dress today, with the distinction that it was highly decorative & could be removed. Victoria pointed out the Terraced Crown Dress as an example of a dress that has “stomacher”-like features, and I think that is a great example!.

  12. Katie 03/21/2010 at 11:49 am #

    I love these historical fashion posts so much. There’s nothing I’d like more than to dance around at a beautiful ball in one of those extravagant 18th century dresses!

  13. Hilary 03/22/2010 at 3:28 am #

    Jen: Ahh, I thought that the ‘softer’ ones still had the wooden structuring in them. Which made it seem funny that they would wear something so structured only to make it not look like it is. (If that sentence makes any sense). Learning heaps from this!

  14. Natasha (ModCloth) 03/22/2010 at 12:50 pm #

    Why do I really want to wear this, for a day?

  15. Sophie S. 03/22/2010 at 1:18 pm #

    Ohhh dude, remember how one of the American Girl dolls had a dress with interchangeable stomachers? I think it was Samantha. I can’t believe they retired her, it makes me so sad.

  16. Sophie S. 03/22/2010 at 1:21 pm #

    Never mind, it was apparently Felicity. Still, Samantha 4 Lyfe!

  17. Sophie 03/22/2010 at 4:31 pm #

    I think these would be awesome actually! You could change up your outfits so easily 😀

    I also think that bending just at the waist is graceful, as someone pointed out. In ballet, my teacher would pitch fits if you arched your back when you bent forward!

  18. q 03/22/2010 at 8:06 pm #

    katie r… i don’t think she was being snippy, just making a point like you.


  19. Casey 05/05/2010 at 11:37 am #

    These are so painful! I definitely think I could stomach it though, at least for a little while. I already wear binding clothes as it is!

  20. bucknell university 01/19/2011 at 12:38 pm #

    It is amazing that this project is being shared online. I visited the museum for the first time last May, a wish I’d had for a long time- it was fantastic

  21. jvc everio 01/19/2011 at 2:44 pm #

    best one yet. I was rolling!!! hahaha

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