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Look for items sold by Walmart. In , Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, wrote her granddaughter reminiscing about her pregnancies and the clothing she resorted to in an attempt at comfort: And from that time never went abroad but with a long black scarf to hide me I was so prodigeous big.
The "warm waistcoat" described by the duchess was probably an unboned sleeveless garment that fastened at the front.
In spite of the availability of looser waistcoats, some women continued to wear heavy stays or corsets during their pregnancies. The French encyclopedia by Denis Diderot illustrates a pair of stays for wear during pregnancy; they have additional lacings at the side waist to allow expansion as a woman's body grew. As uncomfortable as stays sound to us, they did provide support for the back and helped maintain some semblance of the fashionable female figure by keeping a flat line at the bodice front, pushing the bosom up into a high, rounded shape.
Although some criticized stays prior to the s, the most vocal outbursts against them occurred after stays had been abandoned for fashionable reasons at the end of the eighteenth century.
In an edition of Advice to Mothers, Dr. Buchan praised the new uncorseted fashions and described the former practice of wearing stays during pregnancy. Among many improvements in the modern fashions of female dress, equally favourable to health, to graceful ease and elegance, the discontinuance of stays is entitled to peculiar approbation. It is, indeed, impossible to think of the old straight waistcoat of whalebone, and of tightlacing, without astonishment and some degree of horror.
I need not point out the aggrevated mischief of such a pressure on the breasts and womb in a state of pregnancy. Unfortunately, fashion later in the nineteenth century returned to corseting and constricted the waistline as much as or more than it had in the previous century.
Few maternity gowns survive in museum collections. Colonial Williamsburg has only one. Women altered their usual clothing in an era when most could not afford large wardrobes or clothing designed specifically for pregnancy. Women's styles were surprisingly adaptable to changes in size. Many gowns fastened at the front with hidden lacings that could be let out to accommodate the new figure. If the triangular stomacher no longer fit the front of the enlarged gown, the front could be filled in with a large neck handkerchief worn much like a shawl.
Petticoats usually fastened at either side with ties, and thus could continue to be worn during pregnancy by loosening the ties. Women merely tied their petticoats up over their abdomens, hiking up the hems at the front as a result. Print sources suggest that no attempt was made to adjust hemlines to make the skirts hang evenly in front.
Women's thigh-length Short Gown from the late 18th century could have served as a loose-fitting maternity garment.
Another garment easily adapted to pregnancy was a loose, unfitted gown with a shortened skirt that was worn with a petticoat as a two-piece outfit. Variously called a "bedgown" or "short gown," this style was not limited to maternity wear, but was the everyday dress of many working women as a comfortable alternative to fashionable but tight gowns. Because they were cut full and loose, pregnant women could wear bedgowns without altering them.
The high-waisted, uncorseted styles of the turn of the century were even more convenient. They were usually fitted to the upper body with drawstrings that could be loosened as necessary. The absence of a natural waistline made camouflage and fit easier than it had been in the past. One of the most characteristic garments worn by pregnant women was a long apron tied over the clothing under the breasts and covering the abdomen. As early as , diarist Samuel Pepys associated an apron with pregnancy: Wearing aprons to camouflage pregnancy continued in the eighteenth century; even children seemed to associate the wearing of aprons with pregnancy.
Philip Vickers Fithian, tutor to the Robert Carter children in Virginia, described the antics of two of his little charges: Throughout much of the eighteenth century, most women kept to the practice of "lying in" for about a month following delivery to regain their strength. By the end of the century, this long period was shortened to two weeks or ten days. Tiny velvet shoes are from first half of 17th century. Infants' shoes rarely survived, as they often were passed down and worn out.
Although bottles were not unknown, most eighteenth-century women breast-fed their children for at least a year. In fact, breast-feeding became increasingly fashionable during the century.
For those unable or unwilling to breast-feed, wet nurses could be hired to take over the task. Esther Burr, who had been breast-feeding her five and one-half-month-old son, hired a temporary wetnurse when she had to travel with her husband. Referring to Aaron's nurse, she wrote in the diary, "have got the best Woman in Town for that purpose to late and suckle it.
Most women undoubtedly wore their usual clothing while nursing. If a woman wore stays, she may have chosen those with front rather than back lacings and less heavy boning.
A rare pair of elaborate brocaded silk stays in the Colonial Williamsburg collection has a flap opening over each breast, in all likelihood as a convenience during nursing; the stays lace at both the front and back. Weaning occurred when a child was between one and two years of age.
Esther Burr weaned Aaron when he was about fourteen months old. She complained, "I am Weaning Aaron and he makes a great Noise about it. A child's first solid food consisted of pap, a soft mixture of bread or meal moistened with milk or water, and sometimes laced with beer.
Papboats were designed with spouts from which the pap could be fed directly into the child's mouth. Children's clothing underwent significant changes during the eighteenth century. As the century began, some parents still wrapped their newborns in swaddling bands for several months after birth. Swaddling consisted of wrapping the infant's body tightly with narrow bands of fabric called "rollers.
A critic of the practice noted that the result was to render the child "as stiff as a log of wood. The writings of John Locke argued against physical constraints for children, particularly tight swaddling. Locke's ideas were expanded and popularized by the publication of Emile Jean-Jacques Rousseau in Mothers were encouraged to breast-feed their children rather than hiring wet nurses, dress them in comfortable clothing, and allow them to exercise in the fresh air.
Others espoused these reforms; Dr. Buchan argued against "the cruel tortures of swathing, of rollers, and of bandages" for children. In spite of a movement away from tight binding, parents did not readily abandon the practice of putting children into stays or corsets that were thought to encourage good posture, provide back support, and shape a fine figure.
Stays were laced about the bodies of some infants almost from birth. Although boys shed their stays when they were put into breeches or trousers, girls continued to wear them into adulthood.
No stays are listed among the extant orders for clothing for Virginia slave children. Stays gradually went out of fashion late in the eighteenth century. Boys wore skirts in the 18th century until almost age five, when they donned breeches and symbolically entered the man's world. Here young Benjamin Hallet not only is arrayed in a shirt, he is laced into stays to shape his body and encourage erect posture.
Both little boys and girls wore skirts, a practice that continued well into the twentieth century.
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