CONCEAL, CONSTRICT OR REVEAL? 200 Years of Maternity Fashion

Friday 6 Mar 2020, 10:00 AM - 11:30 AM

The end of the 19th century saw the first ‘official’ maternity styles made available for expectant woman to purchase. This is often seen as the point when pregnant women were first considered as a separate category or problem for fashion. Yet, 18 and 19th century dress, and particularly surviving garments, reveal the strategies used by pregnant and nursing women long before that point.

This lecture explores those strategies, looking at stories and myths of invisibility, restriction, and the desirable female body over two hundred years of maternity and fashion.  It will touch on issues like maternity dressing for royal or aristocratic women, and the challenge of managing a changing body shape when new clothes aren’t an option. Attend to hear examples of the clothes women wore while pregnant, how they managed breastfeeding, and the curious features of the maternity corset. The lecture will conclude with a reflection on the absence of pregnant women from some aspects of history, and how exhibitions and publications over the next few years are seeking to change that.

CATRIONA FISK is a dress historian and material culture specialist, with a particular focus on 18th and 19th century maternity fashion. Her recently completed doctorate examined the surviving record of maternal dress in museums in the USA, UK, Canada and Australia from 1750-1900. She is also a freelance curator, having worked on several museum exhibition and publication projects including 2016’s Connecting Threads: Tracing Fashion, Fabric and Everyday Life at Newstead House at a historic house museum in Brisbane.

Alexander Roslin (Swedish, 1718 – 1793)
Portrait of Grand Duchess Natalia Alexeievna, 1776
oil on canvas | 825 x 620 mm
collection of the Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Maternity Corset, [England or Germany], circa 1900
©Victoria and Albert Museum, London, T.98&A-1984

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