A friend collected these vintage garments many years ago. She always had an interest in maternity fashions and other women’s issues, like active sports’ wear. I regret that I do not have better photos, but I suspect that these garments are not the kind that usually turn up in museums, so I’ll share what I have.
The one that I find most interesting is, sadly, the one with the worst photos.
The changeable taffeta has tiny stripes, and photographs as brownish or bluish, depending on the angle.
For comparison, here is another Mid-Victorian basque from the same collection, also made of striped taffeta — but this one is definitely not suitable for maternity wear:
My friend believed the one with a very full front was a maternity basque, probably because there are two lines of hand stitching across its full front — once used to gather it in. You can see from the wrinkles in the taffeta that at one time it was gathered to a smaller size than it is now.
Wrappers and Dressing Sacks, Late Victorian
Another option for the pregnant woman in a corseted, tight-waisted era was the wrapper. We would call it a robe, and the fancy versions for receiving callers were called “tea-gowns,” but they were made of many fabrics, from simple cotton prints to wool or luxurious silks. The cotton ones were often worn as house-dresses.
My friend probably bought this one because it might have been used by a pregnant woman. It is in the style of the 1890’s, with a black velvet yoke trimmed with black lace, a bow behind the high neck, and very full upper sleeves.
I think the fabric is either wool challis or a wool-cotton blend. The back bodice is very fitted, the front very full. Was it a maternity gown? I can’t be sure.
Like many wrappers, it has a loose outer layer and a fitted inner bodice:
Wrappers from Sears (1900) were illustrated to show a similar inner lining — intended to take the place of a corset when breakfasting — or when you couldn’t wear a tight-waisted corset any more.
The inner bodice seems to have adjustable lacing at the sides.
Of course, just because the hidden underbodice can be buttoned, that does not mean the wearer would have to button it completely. A woman could button just the outer yoke, or just the top buttons.This vintage wrapper is so worn that the velveteen yoke and collar are almost completely bald.
The fabric is heavy, and once went well with its rust red velveteen yoke, collar, and cuffs. This garment closes with hooks and eyes; possibly at the neck and shoulder under the yoke, and definitely under the back yoke. (I’m sorry I didn’t photograph it open; I have forgotten exactly how it worked.)
I love the fact that this shabby garment was collected, not for its beauty or condition, but because it is a record of an ordinary woman’s life.
Another possible maternity garment, in the days when middle-class women in an advanced stage of pregnancy remained at home, was the smock-like semi-robe known as a “dressing sack.” A descendant of the combing sacque, which was supposed to be worn while brushing or styling your hair, the one on the left is described as “made very loose at the waist. It is very comfortable and cooling.”Since, even in the 1930’s, maternity dresses were illustrated as if the women wearing them had no need for them, there is a lot of coded language in early descriptions. Perhaps the “celebrated corset waist” was merely a comfortable way to have breakfast before dressing for the day. But what about those expandable lacings, and that adjustable drawstring waist?