A brief history of maternity wear (1770–1925) Part 7

The Twentieth Century Continued…

Women’s Magazines

Between 1910 and 1925, most women’s magazines did start to discuss pregnancy. Adverts of the 1920s for maternity wear were small and usually found alongside baby products. Also, the rhetoric of many of these advertisements emphasized expectant mothers hiding their condition to fit in with society’s norms. Themes of “natural” and “modest” shapes reiterated throughout magazines. In January 1915, The Delineator included an advertisement for a maternity skirt made by D. Finlay and Sons in Manchester. It read as follows:

The ‘Finlay’ Maternity and Obesity Skirt is recommended by
Doctors and Nurses for a graceful slim appearance at all times,
and as a positive aid to good health. This skirt is Tailor-made,
in refined new styles, the appearance being perfectly normal.

. . . We have proof of satisfaction in many appreciative letters
from our patrons. One reads: ‘The skirt arrived . . . and gives
me great satisfaction. …Your patent is a splendid idea, and
is invaluable for keeping a modest appearance all the time.

Similarly, Wood Brothers Company, whose advertisements were found in a wide range of women’s magazines advertised for “self-adjusting maternity wear,” stating that “the greatest advantage of this garment is that it always presents the appearance of an ordinary walking skirt.”

In the October 1923 edition of Good Housekeeping, Wood Bros advertised that mothers wearing their clothes will be “entirely free from embarrassment of a noticeable appearance during a trying period.”

These advertisements all promoted concealing the pregnant figure, with such phrases as “modest appearance,” “ordinary skirt,” and “noticeable appearance.” The connotation was that the pregnant shape was taboo, and that concealing it was not only socially acceptable, but expected. As Samantha Pile observed from extensive study of various magazine adverts in the interwar period, “advertisements for and illustrations of maternity clothing in fashion pages continually depict a visibly fashionable, but hardly pregnant woman. What they illustrate is an ideal: a young, slim, healthy mother-to-be, who, above all, is well-dressed and up-to-date.”

Pile’s conclusions were reiterated in my own research of sampling random women’s magazines from 1910-1925. Most of the clothing mentioned is offered because an expectant mother will “have clothes that allow [her] to go around as usual without attracting attention to [her] condition.”

Dark colours were especially advised because they concealed the protruding stomach better than light or patterned dresses. Emphasis was placed on looking smaller and conforming to society’s expected image of women.

Conduct Books

Expectant mothers not only received advice on maternity wear from the women’s magazines, but conduct books continued to offer helpful suggestions. Mary Kidd’s Ideal Motherhood: A Book for the Expectant Mother includes an entire section related to clothing. Kidd begins by echoing a familiar sentiment for pregnant women to look nice: “women sometimes become unnecessarily disheartened about their appearance and give up trying to look nice at this time. This is the greatest mistake. No woman need to be unsightly when pregnant.” Kidd appeals to women’s desire to remain fashionable, even when their bodies suggest otherwise; however, she also advises against tight clothing, encouraging the mother’s health. Although, then, Kidd does emphasise a good sense of fashion (“a well designed dress will go a long way towards making up for her loss of figure”), her concerns on health gives her advice more weight, rather than being dismissed as frivoulous.

Manuals that were not written by physicians, however, tended to emphasize the importance for women to maintain their figure. The pamphlet Preparing for Motherhood, includes advice on clothing to “help a woman over the embarrassment which many feel when obliged to appear in an obviously pregnant condition.” Women were also told that there was no reason why pregnancy should result in a loss of figure, after the baby was born. Literature on prenatal care often included sections for maintaining appearance both before and after birth.

Preparing for Motherhood tells expectant mothers, “the fact remains that unless a woman is actually swamped with household cares (and with the practice of intelligent birth control there isn’t the slightest necessity for this), there is little or no excuse for her becoming fat, flabby, and careless as to her appearance.”

Nice.

A woman’s body was not only supposed to reproduce, but maintain a specified figure while doing so.

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