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Friday, March 18, 2016

Maternity Wear in the Gilded Age

Due to a present need for maternity wear in my own life, I started wondering what life was like for a pregnant woman who was also part of Gilded Age society.  Women generally took a reprieve from the public eye during this time, but was this the case for their entire pregnancy?  Would women use their clothing to embrace their shape or try to hide it?

It is true that pregnancy was a private subject during the Gilded Age and women were quiet about the subject.  It was not socially acceptable to flaunt a growing belly in public during the nineteenth century.  Any celebrating was saved until the actual birth of the child, which was partially due to higher mortality rates for infants and mothers and partially due to what was deemed an acceptable conversational topic in society.  The fact that the topic was private and not shared or discussed publicly certainly limits the sources that were left behind, but some examples of maternity wear and corsets remain.  In a society in which corsets were worn by all women and the ideal was a 15 inch waist, how did women deal with their expanding waistlines?  Today, maternity girdles are occasionally worn by women to support their growing midsection, but about 100 years ago, maternity corsets were worn to help minimize or mask the appearance of a growing bump.  These corsets were worn by many women despite warnings from the medical community that lacing too hard could harm the baby or the mother's organs (Check out this recent video on modern day corsetry).  Advertisements for corsets emphasized their safety, but it was up to the women to avoid lacing them too tight.

Maternity Corset