Nowadays, celebrities pose on the red carpet looking glamorous, while showing off their rounded bellies. Fashion designers have caught on to this trend and are now competing to offer expectant mothers clothes that will accentuate their womanly curves. But has this always been the case? Here is a look at the evolution of maternity wear… with many surprising fashion twists!
Hide that belly!
Pregnant women exude beauty, radiance and elegance – so why hide a belly that is bursting with such appeal? Interestingly, there was a time where pregnancy was seen as an inconvenience; it was merely the crossing of a long and necessary passage. Instead of proudly flaunting their shape, pregnant women concealed their pregnancy bulge with a corset. Of course, after a few months, any attempt to hide the obvious became a ridiculous and pointless feat. As the baby grew, the clothes had to grow too!
To accommodate their changing shape, women of generations past would simply sew an extra panel of material onto a skirt and voilà, instant maternity wear! In the early 1900s, Eaton’s and Sears finally launched their first clothing line specifically designed for pregnant women. What all started with a few garments quickly became showcased on several pages of the catalogue. But what type of clothing was being offered to mothers-to-be? Dresses and blouses sported childlike designs and were decked with ribbons and bows. Despite such baby steps towards fashionable design, maternity apparel continued to be utilitarian in nature.
It is not surprising that many of these dresses, skirts and blouses did not survive to the present day. Among the 7500 articles of clothing indexed at the Museum, only 20 of them are specifically labelled as maternity wear. And in contrast to the Celine Dions and Britney Spears of our day, yesterday’s expectant mothers were not photographed often. Hence, pictures of pregnant women are rare.
With so little historical record of what is a momentous period in women’s lives, Andrea Melvin, recent graduate of the MA in Public History Program at the University of Western Ontario, decided to dig a little deeper. The task that lies ahead of her is colossal, albeit fascinating. But where to start?
Drawing inspiration from Krista Cooke, Assistant Curator of the Canadian Museum of Civilization’s History Division, who had been collecting maternity wear, Andrea quickly turned to the Museum Corporation’s Research Fellowship Program. The Museum is interested in the study of maternity wear’s evolution through time as it sheds new light on society’s changing view of pregnancy. Andrea’s project falls within the program objectives to enhance the quality of museum-related academic research in Canada and to enrich our National Collection.
What will Andrea discover? What family secrets will be revealed? Some answers may be tucked away in an old trunk in your basement or attic! Andrea Melvin is reaching out to all of us. If you have maternity wear, photos, catalogues or testimonials that could help with her research, please contact us via Facebook or:
email@example.com / 819 776-8423
firstname.lastname@example.org / 819 776-8366
Who knows? A lovely picture of your grandmother carrying your mother-to-be could make history!