For most of the twentieth century maternity “fashion” was less about looking good and more about comfort and hiding the bump. The result was decades of large, shapeless, tent-like clothing designed to distract people from what was going on underneath.
In the early 1900s, corsets were as common as shoes in women’s fashion. Women from all walks of life wore them, even into their pregnancies. While some doctors advised women not to, manufacturers capitalized on the trend by marketing maternity corsets to help women hide and contain their expanding bellies.
That practice of wearing corsets continued until the 1920s when women began wearing girdles in place of corsets. Although girdles were not as constrictive, they still had the same effect of concealing the pregnancy.
The 70s brought the maternity panty-girdle and the focus shifted from constricting and concealing the bump, to supporting the weight of the baby, and reducing lower back pain and other problems, for the mother.
Today, maternity leggings have been added to the mix. The best maternity leggings not only support the belly, they improve circulation, wick moisture, and come in a variety of stylish colors.
Throughout most of the twentieth century, concealment was still the name of the game when it came to maternity clothing. Women wore looser dresses with embellishment designed to distract from, or camouflage the growing bump. In fact, a 1923 ad for maternity wear advised that the wearer would be “entirely free from embarrassment of a noticeable appearance during a trying period.”
Things didn’t get much better for the rest of the century as women continued to wear wide, tent-like dresses, even in the 80s. Even when women started wearing pants, most pregnancy tops were oversized and boxy which, ironically, often made the women look larger than they actually were.
It wasn’t until the 90s that designers started thinking in terms of maternity fashion. Juicy Couture was the first, but other designers soon followed suit.
Maternity Wear Today
Along with more designer interest in maternity fashion, there was also a shift away from concealment to openly flaunting the bump. Much of this had to do with public interest in celebrity pregnancies, and with actresses like Demi Moore proudly displaying their bumps for the entire world to see.
While today’s maternity fashions are still loose and comfortable, they are more flowing and tend to cling to the curves, instead of concealing them. They also tend to come in bright colors, and bold patterns, instead of muted tones designed to render the wearer invisible. You can even find maternity bathing suit, including bikinis, designed to support the belly and flaunt your bump.
Maternity fashion has come a long way from the days of “…the embarrassment of a noticeable appearance during a trying period.” Today’s fashions celebrate the bump, and the women that have them. They create an appearance designed to be noticeable, and free women from what used to be a trying period of drab colors and shapeless sacks.