Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Nothing to Wear: The Story of My 18th Century Maternity Wardrobe

So, what did pregnant 18th century ladies wear? In deciding how to outfit myself at events for the next six months (and believe you me, I have no intention of not participating fully in events, swollen ankles, giant belly, crankiness or no! Sorry about the potential crankiness, rest of my unit...), my first question must be, "what is correct for me to wear?"

Good news--for the most part, women in the 18th century didn't have maternity clothing. Their everyday clothes were adjusted--and built to adjust--to accomodate the weight gain and loss associated with pregnancy. Fitted gowns and jackets would lace or pin, ever-wider, over stomachers--perhaps made extra-wide. Bedgowns and shortgowns, which are looser-fitting clothes, could just be wrapped around and pinned or belted with an apron. And petticoats--you have to love the genius of petticoats, which just tie looser or tighter depending on the current state of affairs. Stays were either built with additional side lacing or, in some cases, eventually discarded in favor of quilted support garments.

Bad news--I've been building my wardrobe since I was 16 or so and really wasn't thinking "baby-bump adaptability" at that point.

So, I have in my current wardrobe no loose bedgowns or shortgowns, and several perfectly fitted and--let's sigh together--non-stomachered gowns and caracos.

What to do?

First, the things that shan't need adjustment--my shifts and petticoats will be good to go.

Second, the things that might work for a while--I have one jacket with a stomacher that I can squeak by with for a while, and a caraco with a lot of extra room in the front.

Third, the brand new--the peachy pink stays. More on those soon, and what makes them pregnancy-adaptable.

Finally, the creative solutions. I may rework one gown with robing and a stomacher to make it adjustable. I'm afraid that just pinning or lacing what I've got over a stomacher will look incredibly wonky, and while that might be forgiveable, it's not ideal. I may finally make a bedgown, even though I kind of hate how they look. Don't judge. They're a great garment. They're adaptable. I know. They're just so...schlumpfy. At least on me. Some people look adorable. I look like a schlumpf. I've never done schlumpfy and I'd rather not start now, but it may be unavoidable.

My final creative idea: I've been hankering after a chemise a la reine for a long while, and from examining Norah Waugh's cutting diagrams and others' finished products, I think it could be quite adaptable. The only issue--it falls just at the tail end of what I can document for our period (through 1783) and definitely falls outside the range of dates for my current portrayal (1777). Still, I may just throw caution to the wind, make it, wear it happily, and claim pregnancy exemption from criticism.

The current priority is getting the stays done by mid-April for my first event of the year--it's going to be a bit rushed, but after trying on my "normal" stays to get the fit of the new ones right, I think it's a necessity. Not comfortable!


Noelle Pierce said...

Wait, wait, wait, wait, WAIT. Did I miss something??? If I'm reading this correctly, congratulations! Is this your first?

Sew18thCentury.com said...

First off, congratulations!

Secondly I wanted to share what I did during my pregnancy two years ago...I wore my gowns / stays well into the 7th month.

That was my first year sewing and my costume wardrobe consisted of two front closing English gowns. I pinned them closed at the top and let the bump peek out below. This was covered by the apron and petticoat, which I tied above the bump. The 1774 print "The Man of Business" shows preggos ladies doing this.


I hope this helps, good luck!

Annabelle said...

Congratulations! How exciting! :)

I know what you mean about bedgowns. Seriously...the Snuggie of the 18th century :\ That being said, the few I have are remarkably cool on super hot reenacting days since they're not so fitted, so that might be a plus in their favor. Also, partial pleating down the back does give the bedgown nicer lines and makes it not so schlumpy.

Isis said...


And bedgowns doesn't have to look frumpy! Look at Anna here:


Rowenna said...


Sew--I think that's the plan at first...I'm just not sure how long it will close at all! Eeeps! I'll be experimenting a lot soon, and I expect I'll post some rather hilarious disasters created by my dress form, a pillow, and various bits of clothing!

Annabelle--I've never considered that, it's kinda true! Snuggie, lol! You're right, though, a lightweight linen bedgown could be just the thing when it's hot...and helpful for before stays happen in the morning, too.

Isis--thanks! See, Anna looks lovely. I look like a tent on a good day :)

Clare S (GwT) said...

Woah - huh - what?! Did I miss something?! Eek - congratulations! A mini-prosaic!!!

Will be v interested to see how you incorporate the bump into your 18th C wardrobe - it's not something I've seen a great deal of info on.

Julie said...

Awwwwwww, yey! Congrats on the exciting news!

Heather R said...

Congrats! As always I look forward to seeing how you problem solve!