Maternity fashion has come quite a long way in the past hundred years. With documentation on maternity wear from the 1300s, it’s a journey to see how women’s style has progressed. From casual maternity wear to pregnancy shoes, read on to learn how fashion has evolved into the looks moms-to-be adorn themselves with today.
Historical Maternity Fashion (Pre-20th Century)
Before the 20th Century, maternity clothes simply didn’t exist. Instead, women adjusted their clothing to accommodate their growing bodies. During the 1300s, women’s dresses were rather full, which made doubling these looks as pregnancy wear simple. However, starting in the 1400s, the trend of women’s dresses was more fitting to the female form. This change introduced specific design elements to make the clothing friendly for pregnant women.
Between the 1400s and 1800s, women’s dresses were loosened near the seam, exposing the lace panel of dresses, to make room for their growing baby bumps. The lace panel served to cover baby bumps, but as women progressed in their pregnancies, the lace panel wasn’t able to provide the proper coverage. Instead, women would use scarves or shawls to cover up their dresses, or simply wear larger size dresses to make room for their bellies.
One style of dress that was worn during these years, that continued into the 20th Century, was the empire waist dress. Empire-style dresses feature a fitted bodice that ends below the bust. This offers a high-waisted appearance and features a gathered skirt that is long and loosely fitting, giving women plenty of room for growing bumps.
During the 1800s, specifically the Victorian era, pregnancies were to be concealed. This societal trend introduced the maternity corset. The garment was structured with whalebones to minimize the appearance of a baby bump. The maternity corset stayed in fashion until the early 1900s.
20th Century Maternity Style
In 1904, the first maternity gown was designed. The style of these dresses matched the trend at the time of tighter silhouettes, but the maternity gowns offered extra room. This introduction launched the concept of women purchasing maternity wardrobes, instead of accommodating their current clothes for pregnancy. At the start of this trend, however, this was a practice for wealthy women. Women who couldn’t afford a new wardrobe would instead wear baggier clothes during pregnancy.
The tighter-fitting dress trend made its way out during the 1920s in favor of softer silhouettes with draped dresses and belted waistlines. While flowier fits were more in-style, it was still widely encouraged for women to hide their pregnant bellies. Dresses with prints or adjustable waistlines were worn to help camouflage their growing bumps. During the 1940s, flowy button-up tops or dresses were introduced as a way to conceal and accommodate a pregnancy. This shirtdress became a popular trend into the 1950s and even Queen Elizabeth adorned the style during her pregnancy.
The 1950s saw the long-awaited introduction of pants for women, which was a blessing for many pregnant women to help with comfort. The trend of women hiding their pregnancy dissipated during this decade as well. Actress Lucielle Ball popularized maternity fashion as the first pregnant woman to appear on television. The popular style of the decade was a wide, flowing top paired with capri pants or a fitted skirt.
By the 1970s, the biggest for pregnant women were high hemlines, a trend for all women’s fashion. Women wore babydoll-style dresses that afforded comfort, style, and room to grow. Jackets and kimonos were chosen as optional style add-ons for women during this time.
Princess Diana became an icon for fashion trends in the 1980s, opting for oversized dresses for both of her pregnancies. By the 1990s, pregnancy fashion was truly celebrated with women showing off their bumps with dresses that hugged their curves.
Redefining Maternity Fashion in the 21st Century
At the start of the early aughts, pregnancy continued to be celebrated but in a brand new way. Two big trends that began were the comeback of empire waist dresses and exposed baby bumps, either in sheer fabrics or with crop tops. Flowy dresses were still in-style, but instead of hiding pregnancies, women embraced them, with many celebrities cradling their bumps on the red carpet in flowing gowns. With technology evolving Pregnancy Dating Scan and other prenatal screenings, women were able to track the development of their babies more closely, leading to a sense of pride in showing off their growing bellies. That affected maternity fashion too, with form-fitting dresses and bodycon styles becoming increasingly popular.
Hiding baby bumps has strongly become a trend of the past. No matter what type of clothing women choose, bumps are on display. Bodycon dresses, maxi skirts, fitted t-shirts, and more are chosen by women during pregnancy.
Crop tops had lost some momentum in maternity fashion during the 2010s but resurged when Rihanna got pregnant. The singer tipped maternity fashion on its head and adored herself in stunning looks, unafraid to bare her bump, that prompted pregnancy fashion trends to follow.
When it comes to maternity shoes, the style was pretty much non-existent until the 21st Century. However, during pregnancy, comfortable shoes are essential. Due to feet swelling, carrying extra weight, and the difficulty of putting shoes on, there was absolutely a need for this type of footwear.
Maternity fashion has come quite a long way since the 1300s. Now, women are embracing their changing bodies and fashion is lending itself to supporting women through their pregnancy with comfortable and stylish garments.