Friday, April 19, 2013

Historical Maternity

I love historical maternity wear. I love it. I worked with BYU's Historical Clothing Collection for two years and came across some great stuff.

We had one man that was around 80 bring a box of clothes in to donate. One dress was from the 1920s and was actually a dress his mother wore while she was pregnant with him. He also explained that his ancestors were British colonists in India during the middle of the 19th century.

He left us with the dress and some other things, but my favorite was a 1860s jacket. It was of Indian printed cotton and was of European style, short with pagoda sleeves. It was in amazing condition and was so great to see in this Indian textile. We put it on the form but it just looked off. What do you do when a dress or garment looks funny on a form? You pull out the belly. Sure enough this was a maternity piece! The belly was cut full and it suddenly had more of a story. Imagine a British woman in India during the absolute height of British Imperialism, pregnant and getting her clothes made from the local textiles. I love it!

We had a few other pieces while I was cataloging that had roughly the same story. It looks strange on the form so you pull out the belly. Ta-da! She's got a bun in the oven! I'll tell you a second story about amazing collection discoveries a different time.

For now, here is a picture of a maternity and nursing corset. Yes, women did wear corsets throughout their pregnancies. With the fashion for small waists it was partially to restrict their growing belly, but you have to imagine that it would provide a nice bit of support for their growing belly and bust. Nowadays you can purchase belly bands that lift and support the weight of the belly. It's kind of the same thing.

I won't go into the history of maternity clothing, but I just think it's fascinating and for me it is a great reminder that people in the past were real. What's more real than all the aches and frustrations and feelings of hugeness that a pregnancy brings?

I have an entire Pinterest board here of maternity wear.


  1. Did you ever see Cold Comfort Farm? You would be the delightful Joanna Lumley character.

  2. I'm convinced my grandma wore a corset while pregnant with her first child. She looks thin, even for not being pregnant, in pictures taken 3 months before my aunt was born. Said aunt has the pear-iest figure I've ever seen and no one else in the family does. I have actually pondered on the physics of her managing to stay upright.