Readers, if I told you I was shopping for maternity patterns, would you think I was nuts?
Well it's true -- the shopping part, I mean. A pretty, young(ish) model we all know and love is....how shall I put this -- in the family way. Please don't ask for the gory details, just trust me that's it's happening. Meanwhile, we're frantically pricing round trip bus tickets to Niagara Falls. And thinking clothes.
After considerable online research, I have learned that the heyday of the maternity pattern was the 1950's and early 60's and things have gone down hill since then -- not in terms of comfort, but aesthetics. Let's review.
In the no-nonsense 1930's and 40's, maternity patterns were usually just big smocks. You could paint in them, dust in them, be pregnant in them, or just get fat in them; sometimes all four.
Even expectant lesbian couples wore decidedly normal clothes.
During this period you also find patterns for what look like ordinary dresses, but with pleats or tucks that snap open to allow the dress to expand. The message is, Get on with your life, don't make too much sartorial fuss, and please, don't call too much attention to "it."
The Fifties changed all that. It's no surprise that this was the peak of the postwar baby boom. All of a sudden, millions of young women were having babies and the big pattern companies began pumping out stylish maternity patterns. The A-line tent top, usually worn with cigarette pants or a pencil skirt that could expand at the waist, was the look for fashion-conscious pregnant women.
There were maternity suits, day dresses, play clothes, and even evening clothes. Pregnancy was big business. Lucille Ball set the standard for pregnancy chic.
Fifties maternity wear was adorned with oversized Peter Pan collars, big bows, and lots of polka dots. Like most Fifties fashion, the look was polished and put-together, whether one was lunching in town or simply contemplating a rose.
Skirts were made with specially engineered adjustable waistlines -- there were no stretch fabrics back then.
In the mid-to-late Sixties, as the A-line silhouette, the empire waist and, later, the smock top became mainstream fashion for everyone, maternity clothes started to look much less special. In fact, they were downright dull. Pregnant women began dressing like everybody else; they just loosened their belts as needed.
Eighties fashion was perfect for the pregnant woman, since you could fit a baby as well as few bags of groceries under even the non-maternity clothes of the period.
Today, does anybody even bother with maternity fashion? With stretch fabrics, your clothes already expand as needed. I'm sure Hillary Duff is comfortable below, but she's not exactly glamorous. Then again, she is carrying a child -- OMG, she just gave birth TODAY! Mazel tov, Hillary!
Back in the day, it was rare that a celebrity would be photographed pregnant; it just wasn't for public consumption. You'd see a photo of them posing in a bed jacket with a little bundle of joy in Life Magazine and figure out the rest. No one whispered about baby bumps and there were no nude pregnancy portraits, for better or for worse.
In closing, readers, if you've ever been pregnant, did you buy (or sew) special maternity fashion or just wear stretchy separates? Did you prefer dressing like everyone else, albeit with an expanding belly and (proportionally) larger accessories?
Do you agree that maternity fashion peaked in the Fifties and early Sixties and if so, how do you explain it?
I hope you are as excited as I am about what's likely to be our next photo shoot. As always, we're up for anything here at MPB!
I'm a native New Yorker and sewing fanatic! I started sewing in 2009 and today make all my own clothes using vintage sewing machines and vintage patterns, in addition to sewing for private clients. Welcome to the warm and whimsical world of Male Pattern Boldness, where the conversation is sewing, style, fashion, fabric, and more!