History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

14 December 2009

Maternity Clothes

I was discussing this over the weekend with a costumer friend, so I thought it might be fun to talk about here on the blog.

For most of the Georgian era pregnancy itself doesn’t seem to be something that was celebrated or treated as something to be memorialized. The safe delivery of a child certainly was, and it is that, not the pregnancy, that tends to show up in letters and diaries. In contrast to the myth of pregnant women being “confined” alone and unseen, most reports show that they were out in public attending (and even hosting) events right up until the end.
There are few examples of clothes that were devoted specifically to maternity. There are several possibilities as to why this might be (and the truth is probably some combination of them all). Firstly, most images show that women simply wore their normal clothes, with editions such as aprons, shawls, and special waistcoats to cover the growing belly (the apron was so common a symbol of pregnancy that little girls playing dress-up would wear one when playing “house” and pretending to be pregnant). The fact that women’s skirts rode up in the front, or that things didn’t close fully doesn’t seem to have been of much concern. Secondly, if they did make special clothes, they probably altered them after, or passed them on to be worn by friends and family until they were worn out. Thirdly, they simply weren’t considered important enough to save.

There are also descriptions of women wearing stays during their pregnancy, as well as an etching of a pattern for them (c. 1771).

For more information on pregnancy and early motherhood see “What Clothes Revel” by Linda Baumgarten. It has a whole section on this topic, complete with many excerpts from period diaries and letters.

Image, clockwise from the top right: An 18th century quilted gown laced over a matching waistcoat for pregnancy; The same gown as worn when not pregnant; A gown designed for a nursing mother, c. 1825-1830. The top panel lifts to expose an underbodice with slits; Detail from Diligence & Dissipation, c. 1796 The unwed pregnant woman is shown descending the stairs, her belly covered by an apron.


Blogger Stephanie J said...

Wow, very interesting! As maternity hasn't figured into my WIP I haven't given this much thought at all but thanks for the insight.

10:19 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Fascinating post, Kalen! I used a gown with a nursing bodice I found a picture of in "Beneath a Silent Moon." As I recall it had crisscrossing flaps that unbuttoned.

11:30 PM  
Blogger Mirella Patzer said...

I always wondered about maternity clothes back then. Thanks for taking the time to research it.

Yours is one of my favourite blogs. I've added your link to all my blogs.

Mirella Patzer
(Stop by for a visit)


6:53 AM  
Anonymous Jane O said...

There's a lovely scene in Congreve's Way; of the World in which Mirabell and Millamant are negotiating their expectations of marriage. One of his provisos is that she avoid tight lacing when she is pregnant so their children don't end up with misshapen heads.

7:58 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks, Mirella. I'm so glad you enjoy the blog.

8:10 AM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Okay; blogger just ate my post. What I wrote was that this is terrific info because we find ourselves writing about pregnant women during the Georgian era and too often have to fudge or gloss over certain details -- which would be really neat to incorporate, if we knew them! And everyone loves wardrobe/costume details.

10:02 AM  
Anonymous maternity jeans said...

The dresses are so beautiful!!! Every dress is really so beautiful and ultimate. I want to add them to my list.

3:26 AM  
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Blogger Kashinath said...

The info on this blog is quite good.

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3:42 AM  
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