Friday, 4 July 2014

Vintage Maternity Fashions

After getting too big for my jeans by about week 10, I've spent a fair bit of time thinking about maternity fashion. Since I wanted to get a bit more into vintage fashion, one thing I looked at was vintage maternity clothing.

I was hoping to find some good outfit posts by vintage fashion bloggers, showing how they adapted a vintage look to maternity wear. There wasn't as much of it as I hoped, but I did find some cute inspirational outfits. I have a Pregnancy Fashion Pinterest Board, it features vintage- and modern-style maternity outfits and some vintage patterns for inspiration.

Today I'd like to share with you some images I found on Trove and Flickr, and talk about how I feel about maternity fashion and the different approaches to it in the past. I won't go into too much detail about maternity wear history, but I do have some links about that to share if you are interested in more information.

1914 maternity dressing jacket
From The Gundagai Times and Tumut, Adelong and Murrumbidgee District Advertiser, 20 Feb 1914

The general trend of maternity fashion history is that things look pretty sparse in the early 20th century. Mentions of pregnancy are pretty rare, and hiding it was a primary focus. This illustration comes from an article talking about the Latest Fashion, and only once mentions that this Dressing Jacket is for a maternity outfit.

1937 maternity fashion illustrations
From The Muswellbrook Chronicle, 3 Sept 1937

This fashion illustration from 1937 shows 3 dresses in a very similar style, but the one on the right is our maternity design (obvious, right?). It is described as follows:

"The style illustrated is a dual-purpose frock. It has been planned to provide comfort and style during maternity, and is suitable at all times for wear by the well-dressed matron who is inclined to fullness.
The cross-over effect, with its single button fastening will be welcomed. The panels bring the necessary slenderising influence."

Many people prefer these styles over later, more voluminous maternity designs. I agree that they look much better, but the problem I have is looking down at my ever-expanding form and then looking at the dress. I can't see my large pregnant self in that dress, let alone looking any good in it. The problem with the photographs and illustrations of the time not showing women who actually are or look pregnant, is that I can't see the dresses as really suited to maternity.
State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,

I had to share this, as one of the few photos I found of an actually pregnant, everyday woman. This is from 1944, and shows a weigh in during a health check. You can actually get a feel for how the standard dress style of the era looks when worn over a very pregnant belly. Fashion illustrations just don't give you that. And she's wearing a cute hat.

1953 Maternity Fashion Sketches
From Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld), 9 Feb 1953

Once we get into the 1950s, maternity wear starts to look like I might actually be able to wear it. Some of it, anyway. Based on this illustration, I would say that some fashion is kind to "Ladies-in-Waiting". I mean, I can tie a dress in, but not at the waist like this! I feel, reading the actual article describe the dresses, that they are much more suited to the growing figure than the illustration suggests. I think fashion illustrators have a lot of trouble sketching in any other way (just a these days it is all long legs and super-skinny frames). The introduction to the article states:

"For years we've complained of the poor style and high price of maternity dresses and at last the manufacturers have woken up to the fact that women want something right in the front line of fashion to wear, during the long months of waiting for Jimmy or Jane! Just knowing that you still look elegantly trim makes the queue at the clinic seem shorter, and your own special D-day not too depressingly far ahead."

She goes on to describe the fashion options in detail, the materials, what occasions to wear them to, and so on. Still, however, much of the time her focus is on how to keep "your happy secret" to yourself.

1954 maternity fashion sketch
From The Chronicle (Adelaide, SA), 25 Nov, 1954

"We do not want to go out with our husbands after dark only - like the dog being exercised. We want to look attractive up to the last moment. And it can be done, if we can get the clothes."

The article accompanying this sketch describes a failed search for maternity wear in the UK, and how similar the situation is in Australia. The comparison is made to the styles readily available in America, which are roughly sketched but described in great detail, to inspire "the Australian home dressmaker". The one I've shown above is a tomato red cotton jacket with a white collar and a navy outsize artist's bow. Also described is an outfit that includes green cotton jeans ending in a tie just below the knee, with an expanding waistline, worn under a smock top in pink, white and green printed cotton.

1957 maternity fashion aww
From The Australian Women's Weekly, 25 Sept 1957

By the late fifites, maternity fashions were starting to get their own spreads in the Women's Weekly, with patterns available to order, and some photography that does the fashions justice (although I doubt the models are actually pregnant).  

"Color is a staunch ally to morale in pregancy. Light colors do not necessarily have an enlarging effect; intense reds, blues, clear whites are flattering."

1960 maternity beach suit aww
From The Australian Women's Weekly, 14 Sept, 1960

I had to include these pictures from 1960. What a contrast there is between these outfits! A fun beach suit showing lots of leg and a conservative outfit that includes little white gloves. I'm not sure I'd feel confident in that beach suit (even if my pregnancy wasn't straddling winter) but I do think it is adorable!

Some Links about Vintage Maternity Fashion:

I have to say that I am happy to be pregnant in a time when it is socially acceptable to show off my bump and let it be obvious that I am in the family way. I do think that some of the vintage styles are fun, however, and intend to draw inspiration from them for some of my maternity dressing.

What are your thoughts on vintage maternity styles? Which era do you like?


  1. Love them, flat out love them!!! While I'm the first one to champion the right for everyone to dress as they please at all stages of their lives, I personally am not a fan of the skin tight (or very nearly so) fashion trend that has prevailed throughout the maternity wear world in recent years. I like the classic, looser cuts of these vintage pregnancy garments and would opt for similar ones myself if I was ever blessed to have a child.

    ♥ Jessica

    1. I have to admit to liking both. It can be a struggle to feel like I look "elegantly pregnant" rather than "all out gigantic", without some careful thoughts about fit. The modern tighter styles that emphasise the pregnant belly can be very flattering if carefully chosen, and I'm just so comfy in jeans and a fitted t-shirt! With the vintage looks, I want to explore nicely fitted pants or skirts and a looser style of top. I have a few outfits in the works at the moment!

  2. Having had two babies already, and finding it difficult to find any decent vintage maternity wear, I ended up sewing myself some pieces. I find I like the 50's for maternity style, I think the loose tops and capris are a cute summer look. Winter is harder ~ I think I tend to stick with tights and skirts and dresses. But most of my "bump" stages have been during summer. ♡

    bonita of Lavender & Twill

    1. I like the loose tops and capris look so much that I'm going to explore it despite winter! Winter is hard, but I do have some gorgeous vintage short jackets and capes to play with, so that helps too.

  3. I love the 50's/60's look for maternity wear, it's so playful and cute!

    1. Isn't it just adorable? If I was going to be pregnant in summer, I would be getting myself a beach suit like the one from WW!

  4. Would you believe.... In a 20s sewing book I had, it mentioned a pregnancy corset?! I can't even imagine. Seems really unhealthy.

    On another blog post!

    1. Given how pregnancy books still have to tell us not to diet and not to wear restrictive shapewear, I'm sadly not too surprised!

      And actually, I think I have a Victorian horror story in one of my books about a woman creating monstrous babies by wearing a tight-laced corset. I think maybe she sold them to the circus. *shudder*

  5. Im not a mom, other then pet mom, so I don't know anything about maternity fashion
    but I really like the star print dress and the 1950s smock. I follow a blog Betsys baby
    written by a pregnant vintage blogger that you might like

    retro rover

    1. Thanks for that blog link! She sews some amazing outfits. Very inspirational.


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