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?
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Four Babies - What Changed in My Last Pregnancy?
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While most of you probably know better, the wider world as a whole still holds this outdated belief.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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
I hope you all learned something! Would you ever wear a maternity corset? Let me know in the comments below!
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