Part 12a: Maternity underwear:  

Maternity and Nursing Bras:


Just before a move in the 1960s, my family was invited for dinner at the home of one of my father's co-workers. His wife was about 8 months pregnant, which I found very intriguing. They had 4 daughters (from 4 to 15). After dinner, I happened to walk back into the dining room. The woman was standing surrounded by her daughters, and was straightening her outfit. She had her top up enough to expose her tummy, and most of her tummy was clearly held by a substantial maternity girdle. She probably had a big laugh later from seeing the expression of shock on my face, as I can still recall how I was utterly transfixed at the sight!


This was a turning point for me. I realized that I found the whole cycle of pregnancy to be absolutely fascinating! There are those people that feel that a pregnant woman cannot be attractive (or are just turned off by the whole idea of pregnancy). However, I hope that readers may be objective enough to accept that there are many men who think pregnant women can be very appealing.  Given my interest in pregnancy, full figured women, and women in their underwear, it's only logical that the intersection of those interests would focus my attention on maternity bras and girdles, and nursing bras.


I have seen very little written about maternity underwear. As an exception, Sylvia Aster's  "Bra Boutique" site includes images of maternity bras. 

However, inventors have long been active in developing support systems for pregnant women and people with pendulous abdomens. I found at least 28 patents. The 1883 patent by A. Galny was the earliest one I found. Some garments feature elaborate support straps and bands. Recent patents by Wicks and Burke (1990) illustrate ongoing efforts to provide good tummy and back support during pregnancy.  The 1988 patent drawings are unusual and interesting because they depict a female model rather than just a "cut-away" view. There is something about this image that is both attractive and appealing and I wonder if it may have been sketched from a live model. She is also shown wearing a body suit - in contrast to the nude image used by Galny in 1883 and by Seering in 1997. The image shown here is for the "Prenatal Cradle" (r). An earlier invention by Seering (#4,836,824 in 1989) also used a similar sketch.

Other elaborate support systems are depicted in catalog images throughout the period covered by this essay. Several catalog pages shown here span a period from 1936 through the 90's and illustrate changes in the presentation of maternity girdles and nursing bras. In the early part of the period, it appears that models were used that were not pregnant (or certainly not advanced in pregnancy). The 1936 Sears also advertised "bindings" for the breasts and abdomen. Most of the focus of these early garments was reducing the size of the woman's body, as well as supporting her abdomen.  




I cannot state for certain if the models in these early images are actually pregnant. The images from 1936 and 1943 are suggestive of early pregnancy, but this may be an illusion resulting from the expansion panels over the model's tummy.


One objection to maternity girdles in the 1930s and 40s was that the lacing arrangement to allow for tummy expansion created unsightly distortion of the woman's outer garments. Beatrice Wohlman addressed this in 1953 in Patent #2,651,778. She used an arrangement of panels (some that had horizontal stretch, and some with vertical stretch) to allow the adjustment laces to be in back rather than in front. There were still two sets of laces, but they were located over the back of each hip.


As early as 1958, Sears used models that appeared to be in the early months of pregnancy. The models for the "brief" style garment (which fits tightly against the crotch - without legs) are shown wearing the garment over long leg panties. This may have been due to "modesty". However, similarly cut "sports" briefs with button crotches were shown in catalogs in the 1940s and 50s (discussed earlier) without panties under them.  

The garment shown by Sears in 1958 with shoulder straps appears to be based on a design similar to one patented by Henry Lunney in 1941.


The model used by Montgomery Ward in 1960 certainly does not appear to be pregnant. She also models items for tall women in other parts of this catalog. Similar to Sears, she is shown wearing the garment over long leg panties. Note the near center location of the front garters compared to the side location used by the "Gale Supports".  



  By 1962, the garments were made of materials that relied more on stretch than lacing adjustments to accommodate changes in size. (Although lacing was still used as illustrated in 1967 by Sears.)


The waist sizes offered may seem small. However, note that most times, sizes are quoted for pre-pregnancy size.



The maternity girdle with expansion panel developed by Sydney Alberts (Pat # 3,080,869) appears to be the basis of the style offered by JC Penny in 1972. The woman who modeled that garment looks like the same person used by Montgomery Ward that same year.



Other examples that used more elaborate combinations of stretch panels are shown here and following. Note that the models exhibit a slight amount of tummy expansion.

The model that appeared in the 1981 Montgomery Ward may be pregnant. However, there is a slight shadow in the area of the tummy expansion panel that makes me think that she has a pad in that area.  


Sears included an "anatomy lesson" in 1981, showing the changes in size during pregnancy. Interestingly, many of the maternity girdles at that time were still modeled by women with flat tummies. The models from the 1986 JC Penny catalog could have modeled any item in the catalog equally well. Was this a lack of pregnant models, store policy, an attempt to subtly suggest to buyers that they would not look pregnant, or something else?  


Following the trend of the decrease of girdles with garters from main line catalogs for the past decade, maternity girdles in JC Penny or Sears catalogs have not been available with garters for the past two decades (or longer).  "Leading Lady" offered two girdles that appeared to have tabs for detachable, hidden garters in their wholesale catalog in 1987 (left) and possibly some other brands may still be available in specialty shops.


In 1986, Sears began to use models that appeared to be in their 5th or 6th month of pregnancy. These models really demonstrated the capacity of the maternity girdles! There was also an unusual "group" shot of pregnant women in one of the Sears catalogs (New England edition) around 1983-84, but I was unable to locate a copy.



Shortly afterward, JC Penny introduced the "Rosalind" product line, and generally used models that were clearly pregnant.




In the 1990's the whole focus seemed to change, and I wondered if there was almost a competition among catalogs to see who could "get out front" with maternity catalog images. The widely distributed Leggs catalog included a model that appeared to be near term. This image was unusual since it showed her body and face - not just an anonymous torso.


In 1995, Leading Lady included maternity underwear in their catalog using pregnant models.



The following image from JC Penny seemed to represent the apex of this trend. Later catalogs used models with somewhat smaller tummies.


Store mannequins were specially made to model maternity clothes. This is an example of a mannequin offered to the trade.


An invention by Vestal Nobbs in 1993 appears to have been successfully marked by Jeunique as their "Natal Support" panty. This allows for individual adjustment for support and comfort.

It may appear that I've used an abundance of patent drawings to amplify my material. However, there are a large number of patents for women's underwear and maternity supports. Especially in the last decade, there was an explosion of development of ideas for maternity supports. The patent by Burke in 1990 is typical of that genre.  I have actually used only a small fraction of the available patent illustrations.




Maternity and Nursing Bras: