Search
  • Katherine Sewing

I Wore a Corset During my Entire Pregnancy and Here's What I Learned

Updated: Jun 25



I want to share with you all my experience wearing a corset during the entirety of my latest pregnancy! Why did I do this, and what did I learn along the way?


If you’re new here, this blog is all about historically inspired sewing, and we love corsets around here. Sign up to my newsletter and check out my Youtube channel for more of this kind of content!


Four Babies - What Changed in My Last Pregnancy?


Pregnant maternity photo four babies corset sewing mama
My last pregnancy was a little bit different

I have four children, and my last pregnancy was a little bit different. Having already been wearing corsets previous to this pregnancy, I wanted a maternity corset that could give the bust and postural support of a good corset, without the waist restriction. I created and wore a set of 18th century maternity stays, from about 4 months to the day I went into labour, and even into the postpartum. Here are some things that I learned.


Corsets Were Not Torture Devices Imposed by Patriarchy!


While most of you probably know better, the wider world as a whole still holds this outdated belief. “Oh, those poor Victorian women, forced to wear corsets that they couldn’t even breathe in!”


Yeah, right. Most of this is completely inaccurate and informed by overly dramatized movie scenes depicting corsets being put on gasping women.


victorian maternity corset historical comfy white pregnancy
A historical maternity corset-looks pretty comfy!

Not only were regular corsets NOT torture devices (indeed, they were probably quite comfortable) most pregnant historical women in the western world would have also worn corsets. And yes, these were probably quite comfortable. My maternity corset certainly was! Pregnancy corsets adjusted to become larger as the woman’s pregnancy progressed, through extra side lacing gaps. When I was pregnant, I loved wearing my stays, they brought me physical and emotional comfort. I will go into that in a lower section.


corset death ad drawing historical warning corsetry danger exposed tight lacing
Hmm . . . interesting

Now let’s get into the “patriarchy” part. Corsets and stays were mostly a female thing, in fact there are many old writings from men criticizing corsetry, that it was ugly or a form of dishonesty. If women felt social pressure to wear them, it was likely from other women, and the fashionable world which was dictated by women (for the most part).


18th century jumps corset comfy maternity pregnant
A pair of jumps I made in my prenancy

I’m sure there were women who chose not to wear a corset of any form, or chose to wear something much softer, like jumps.


The Problem with “Looking Back”


When looking back on history, we tend to categorize certain periods as having had certain predominant styles, and then whitewash in our minds all women from that time as having dressed that way. We forget the natural huge variation in humanity and our preferences.


historical women in pants 1920's victorian
Historical women didn't all dress the same

People dress differently! Some people dress more old fashioned, either by choice or necessity. This is why the best historical movies will show a difference in how people dress, having lower income or more rural people dressing in the older, less fashionable styles, while the rich or urban dwellers are wearing the latest fashions.


poldark demelza ross poldark historical clothing accuracy accurate
BBC drama "Poldark" did great at showing differences among classes

Some people have their own unique quirky styles, and some people wear a mixture of many styles. It’s possible that people in the future could look back on our period and say, “okay, in 2020, women all wore underwire bras, short shorts, crop tops, and yoga leggings”. But is that really accurate?


Corsets Were Primarily a Bust Support Garment, Not a Waist Restricter


Another modern misconception about corsets is that they were primarily to tight-lace a woman’s waist to a smaller size. First of all, if we look back on actual historical records of the average woman’s uncorsetted vs. corsetted waist sizes, we can see that this is not the case. Corsets did not usually reduce a woman’s waist very much at all. And even when they did, this was not their primary function. Remember, bras were not around at this time in history.


bouguereua painting corset stays woman
(Bouguereau painting) Corsets and stays were primarily for bust support

Corsets, whether for maternity or otherwise, were primarily a bust support garment, not a waist restricter! Bras were not officially “invented” until the 1920’s, with earlier variations of the bra being seen perhaps a decade before that. The whole concept of a bra is only possible with modern elasticized fabrics, which stretch to allow the woman to put them on. Without the elastic and stretchy fabrics involved, a bra would not be able to support the bust with such a narrow band size of fabric. And let’s not even get into underwire, which most larger busted women require in order for the bras to give any support, and it’s simply not comfortable! Having worn both corsets and bras, I find a well fitting corset much preferable to bras.


edwardian bra first bra historical brassiere
An early variation of the bra

So, just to clarify: When I wore my maternity stays, there was absolutely no waist restriction going on at all! At least, not anywhere around my baby bump. So, why did I wear them at all?


The main reason I wore my stays was for the bust support! Not only were they much more comfortable than any of my bras at the time, they created a much more flattering silhouette, especially towards the end of my pregnancy when my belly seemed to take up my whole body.


18th century corset stays dressing gown maternity historical dress
My stays helped slim my upper body during my pregnancy

In fact, by the end of my pregnancy, it would have been impossible for my stays to reduce my waist anyhow, as they became so short on my body that they really were simply a means of bust support, and nothing else.



Corsets Can Be Physically Supportive


For about three years, up until I started wearing corsets, I suffered from pelvic and hip pain, which worsened during my two pregnancies prior to this last one.


victorian corset pretty housemaid cording 1890's spoon busk hip pain
One of the first corsets I made and began wearing regularly

When I started wearing corsets, my hip pain disappeared and didn’t come back. When I became pregnant with my last baby, I assumed the hip pain would return as it usually did. It didn’t! The only time I experienced hip pain was if I went for a few days without wearing my stays.


maternity dress 1950's historical fit and flare a line skirt
Maternity 1950's dress I sewed in my last pregnancy

Furthermore, the abdominal support from my maternity stays was tremendous! It was the difference between almost forgetting I was pregnant, when wearing my stays, to feeling like I needed to push my belly on a grocery cart in front of me, when I wasn’t wearing my stays. It truly felt miraculous.

There Are Massive Differences in Styles and Eras of Corsets


18th century stays corset eighteenth red
Standard 18th stays didn't have much waist reduction

During my pregnancy, I wore 18th century maternity stays. I chose to make my maternity corset in this style because it seemed the best suited era to pregnancy. This is not to say that there weren’t maternity corsets in all the other eras, because there were. I can’t comment on how those feel because I have never tried them. What is so lovely about stays in pregnancy is that there is little or no waist reduction in those corsets, which you don’t want in pregnancy, and the conical and somewhat flattened shape they give to the bust is quite flattering and slimming to the upper body, which is all there is to slim when you are pregnant!


corset mock-up spoon busk victorian busk boning channels black contrast
A Victorian spoon-busk corset mock up

Even now I am choosing to avoid styles of corsets with a heavy emphasis on waist restriction, because I am being gentle with my body and doing what feels the closest to nature. However, I love the postural and abdominal support of a good corset, and I love that I can still obtain those benefits. For example, the Victorian era produced corsets with a curved spoon busk which is very kind to the postpartum figure and something I have been loving lately.

Good Corsets Mold to the Body




Something I learned so strongly from my maternity stays experience is that good corsets mould to the body. In fact, if I look at my stays now, months later, they still hold the curved-outward tummy shape that they took on during my pregnancy. It brings back good memories, just looking at and touching these stays, sort of like a plaster belly cast!


18th century stays maternity corset eighteenth historical boning channels augusta jill salen
My maternity corset moulded to my body so well!

This moulding factor is part of what makes good corsets so supportive of the body, pregnant or otherwise. It is also why I use and recommend synthetic whalebone rather than steel, because it moulds to the body so well and responds to body heat.


maternity corset stays 18th century eighteenth side lacing jill salen boning channels reed linen
Back-view of my maternity corset

I first made my stays using reed boning, and they moulded so much to my tummy shape that eventually the strips of reed in the front panel snapped and needed to be replaced with synthetic whalebone. If you ever plan on making maternity stays, learn from my mistakes and use the synthetic whalebone, unless you are very experienced working with reed.



Good Foundation Garments can Improve Self-Esteem

retro maternity dress sewing historical 1940's vintage
1940's inspired maternity dress I sewed in my last pregnancy

My last pregnancy, of all my pregnancies, was one in which I struggled the most with self-esteem of my pregnant body. During my very first pregnancy, I loved being pregnant and loved my belly bump. But by my last one, I just wanted to feel like my normal self! My stays were my best friend during this time. As I mentioned before, these stays had an almost miraculous way of slimming my upper body, which not restricting or interfering in the least with the baby bump, other than providing the most gentle of support.


eighteenth 18th century jacket corset stays orange
You can't really tell I'm pregnant in my upper body at least!

In addition to all this, my stays enabled me to fit into the type of tailored, fit and flare style dresses that I love, and still wanted to wear during my pregnancy. They also allowed me to wear my still beloved 18th century jacket which was another garment very flattering to pregnancy.

brown beige 18th century eighteenth skirt petticoat pleats pleated history bounding stays corset
18th century skirt fits great with a corset or stays underneath

Good corsets or stays, during pregnancy or otherwise, provide a wonderful foundation for skirts as well, allowing them to sit in the right position at your waistline and not shift around. This was especially helpful during pregnancy.


Conclusion


I hope you all learned something! Would you ever wear a maternity corset? Let me know in the comments below!


Contact me at katherinelovessewing@gmail.com


#corsetry #historicalsewing #corsets #sewing #corset #corsetmaking #sewingproject #sewingpattern #sewingblogger #sewingpatterns #sewinglife #handsewing #sewingprojects #sewingblog #sewingmama #vintagesewing

634 views1 comment