From billowing dresses and maternity corsets intended to conceal a woman’s baby bump to the formfitting trend seen on expectant mothers today, see how pregnancy fashion has changed over the years.
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Back in the Middle Ages in Europe, women’s everyday dresses were typically full and forgiving enough to readily double as maternity wear. It wasn’t until the early 14th century, when silhouettes started to follow the female form a bit more, that specific design elements were introduced to make clothing more pregnancy-friendly.
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Here’s another look at modest maternity style in the 13th century. Heavy materials like velvet became popular for dressing gowns at this time, which helped further conceal bumps.
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No seams to take in or let out, just lace-up panels that could be loosened to accommodate a growing baby bump.
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Aprons, too, were commonly used to help hide a pregnant belly.
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Overcoats had lace-up vents in the back, making them adjustable to fit.
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One of the reasons maternity wear was not as important during the Renaissance era was that during a woman’s later stages of pregnancy, she usually stayed home—meaning she would dress in robes and dressing gowns and had no need for clothing adjustments.
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The first recorded maternity gown came about in the Baroque period and was called the “Adrienne,” which featured an empire waist.
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The Adrienne style dress also consisted of folds under the waistline and flowing fabric that helped with a growing bump.
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By the time we were approaching the Georgian period, the Adrienne dress had evolved to include a bib around the bust to make breastfeeding easier.
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As the fashion in the 16th century required petticoats and corsets to attain the ideal figure, many women continued to wear corsets while pregnant.
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This dress features slits in the bust to permit women to more easily breastfeed their baby—a duty which was, for most of the 18th century, been delegated to a hired “wet nurse.”
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Many women could not afford new clothes while expecting and had to make due with their previous wardrobe. In these cases, when their bump grew so big that letting out their back laces didn’t work anymore, they would wear a shawl or scarf to hide the opening in the back of their dress.
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As dresses became fuller into the 1800s, a bump easily blended in with the silhouette.
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In the thick of the Victorian era, pregnancy was considered a condition to be concealed. Enter: the maternity corset. This cringe-worthy garment was structured with whalebones and intended to restrict and minimize the appearance of a baby bump. And doctors endorsed them…
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The Gossard maternity corset’s slogan promised “Better Babies,” as women were convinced that the contraption would provide exercise that was necessary during pregnancy–while also promising to keep the figure looking trim.
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Just add ruffles. No one will notice.
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The empire waist is back and this time it’s complemented by a structured, heavy material.
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It’s worth noting that most of the maternity style developments to this point were more or less exclusive to wealthy women. Women in poor or working class families typically just wore baggy, oversized dresses during their pregnancies.
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“Clothes of Prospective Mothers Should Have Quality of Beauty as Well as of Comfort.” A novel concept, indeed.
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Sadly, the maternity corset was still a mainstay for expectant mothers well into the early 1900s.
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Benito Mussolini’s pregnant wife sporting the popular empire waist.
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Progressing into the 1920s, maternity style relaxed a tad. Softer silhouettes with draped and belted waistlines were the early signs that confining garb was on its way out.
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But not quickly enough. The mindset of the times was still to hide away any signs of pregnancy. “Be entirely free from embarrassment of a noticeable appearance during a trying period,” said one 1923 maternity wear ad in Good Housekeeping.
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The Roaring Twenties brought a welcome reprieve from the restrictive clothes that were popular in decades prior. Just as normal women’s fashion shifted to looser, freer silhouettes, so did maternity fashion.
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And women across America breathed a (literal) sigh of relief.
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Those drop-waist dresses were the perfect amount of slouchy to accommodate the early stages of a belly.
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The 1930s saw a return of a more conservative standard in mom-to-be style. Feminine waistlines and slim figures were very much in vogue, meaning pregnant women relied on small prints and adjustable waistbands to camouflage their “condition.”
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Flounced necklines, capes, and oversized bows and embellishments helped women hide a bump for a little bit longer.
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Instead of dresses, separates started coming into play in the ’30s. Pleated trapeze tops could be cinched during early months and worn more loosely once a bump started to show.
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Small prints, like polka dots, became fashionable for maternity wear, as it was seen as minimizing of a woman’s bump.
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