Who Would Ever Guess?

Companion-Butterick Triad pattern #6948, 1936

Companion-Butterick Triad pattern #6948, 1936

These Are Maternity Dresses from 1936

Woman's Home Companion, August 1936

Illustration by Ernst. Woman’s Home Companion, August 1936

I look at those slim 1930s hips, those flat 1930s bellies, and, even after reading the full text, it’s hard to imagine how these dresses expanded to cover the ninth month of pregnancy.

However, it’s important to remember that women did try to conceal their pregnancies as long as possible in this time period.

How to Look Smart Before the Baby Comes

1936 aug p 62 maternity pattern 6948 dress jacketThe text says “You can be just as smartly dressed as ever and perhaps a little prettier than usual in a maternity wardrobe that is well-chosen and carefully planned.  All you need as a guide is Triad Pattern No. 6948.  The style is a straight concealing wrap-around with three flattering necklines and a separate jacket.  One version is your afternoon dress of dark pure silk with a soft shirred blouse and pastel collars.  The second dress of sheer wool has a more tailored look with a squared-off button bib.   The third gives you a simple and attractive house dress of sanforized shrunk cotton.  Add to these essentials comfortable kid oxfords, soft all-Lastex brassieres, one of the special new adjustable elastic girdles and underwear that is wrap-around or two sizes larger that usual. Be sure that your coat has a wide lap-over and your hat a becoming brim.  You’ll be surprised to find how well you look.”

1936 aug p 62 closup back 6948 back tiesThe back views of pattern #6948 show that all three versions tied with a sash behind, and there is a deep pleat or fold of material which presumably could be released to expand the dress as needed. (I wish there was a pattern layout illustration! Exactly how it worked is not very clear, since the fold seems to run up into the bodice only on the dress at left.)

A Lane Bryant Maternity Dress, 1934

This 1934 catalog from the Lane Bryant company, which had pioneered maternity clothing in 1904, shows that Companion-Butterick patterns were not alone in designing clothes which expanded only from the back and tried to look as much as possible like normal fashions for as long as possible. “Designed to conceal condition. . . .”1934 march p 80 lane bryant maternity catalogFashion-incubator.com discusses the early Lane Bryant Maternity catalogs and how they handled sizing — ingeniously!


Filed under 1930s, Companion-Butterick Patterns, Maternity clothes

12 responses to “Who Would Ever Guess?

  1. Wow–how interesting! I would have never guessed that these were intended as maternity clothes until I saw the back. (And even then, one wonders how long they fit.)

  2. Petite Main

    So interesting, thank you! It’s quite strange though that the pattern envelope (http://vintagepatterns.wikia.com/wiki/Butterick_6948) doesn’t state that this is a maternity dress…

    • Thank you for the link! Perhaps the words “self-adjusted waistline” were a code that women understood in the thirties? I’ve been looking online at other maternity patterns from the forties; they look like ordinary fashions in the illustrations on the fronts. Pregnancy was discussed in hushed voices until the late 1940s – 1950s, as far as I know. The I Love Lucy show made history in 1952 by showing a pregnant actress playing a pregnant character, but she was “Enceinte” in the episode title and “expecting” — the word “pregnant” was forbidden by the network.

      • Petite Main

        Strangely another Butterick pattern from around 1937, Butterick 7568 (http://vintagepatterns.wikia.com/wiki/Butterick_7568_A) was more explicite stating “With self adjusted waist-line for maternity use”.

      • Thank you for the link to that pattern. I hope eventually to find out when pattern makers stopped putting the extra fullness in the back, so the dress could be worn after pregnancy, and started putting it in the front where it was needed. There was such social pressure to conceal pregnancy — at least till the 1940s….

  3. So interesting that the pattern envelope does not say the dress is designed as maternity wear.

    No, I’d have not guessed these were maternity dresses. I’d love to see the pattern pieces to see just how that skirt pleat or wrap operates.

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  9. Katrina Poll

    After trying to work this out for *ages* (and looking at some other period patterns). I suspect they’ve done one of two things
    1) (I think this is less likely) Essentially made a wrap dress with a exaggerated flap that buttons or snaps to the opposite shoulder to give the single front panel look.
    2) (I think this is what they’ve done). Made a dress with two “fronts” where the outer is attached at the neck and armholes but free to tie in the back down the rest of the bodice length, it would likely need to have the side seams graded out to minimize gaping as its let out.
    The lining front would be what actually attaches the skirt and is essentially an extremely deep V down to the skirt waistband and the skirt being cut very wide so it can grow.
    I think this is a pattern of a dress similarly constructed that shows a layplan (https://vintagesewingpatterncompany.com/products/vintage-sewing-pattern-1930s-maternity-dress-s2452) but if anyone finds an original of this pattern please let me know!

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