World Garment: Maternity Dresses Then and Now

So, you’re carrying your little bundle of joy for the next nine months, and you want to look fashionable while wearing something that’s easy on your tummy, right? Most women prefer wearing maternity dresses because of their flexibility between grace and comfort. But, throughout time, maternity dresses have evolved to adapt to changing styles and the need to still be comfortable. Learn more about the origins of maternity dresses and why they’re popular among pregnant women. 

Where Did The Maternity Dress Originate? 

Eastern Europe: Medieval Times 

An apron was once worn as maternity wear. According to the Huffington Post, “It was worn to cover the space left open by tops that no longer fit the belly or reached down to the pant line.” It continued to be worn for centuries, throughout the Middles Ages and beyond. Yes, an apron!

Western Culture: 14th Century 

However, maternity clothes were first conceived (pun intended) during the 14th century. Western culture adopted clothing that introduced more of a woman’s feminine features. Maternity dresses began to hug a woman’s features a little more. The seams were let out on most dresses, but wealthy women would have their dresses tailored for their pregnancy. 

The Baroque Period: 1600-1750

The first recorded maternity gown was the Adrienne Dress, which was known for its empire waist, voluminous folds, and flowing fabric. During Medieval times, especially Elizabethan England, maternity dresses included laced bodices with center panels to account for a woman’s growing waistline. It’s important to note that, during that time, all classes of dresses could be easily adapted for pregnancy. During the Georgian era (1714-1811), maternity dresses became more practical. The sacque gown was also popular in the early 1800s. 

This style of dress had no seams, just flowing fabric. Napoleon’s first wife, Empress Josephine, was responsible for making this style popular. In fact, bibs were added to the bust line to make it easier to breastfeed. Today, the style has been revisited by stars like the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton and the late Princess Diana. 

20th Century-Now 

For many decades into the 20th century, maternity wear still sat on the back burner (particularly maternity dresses). Another sleeveless garment, the Pinafore was worn as an apron and could be bought in nursery shops. Maternity clothing was never considered profitable among designers until the formation of the paparazzi. Lane Bryant catered to women with maternity dresses when catalogs started to gain ground during the 80s.

In the late 90s, the media began taking an interest in pregnant celebrities, and the stars became inclined to look good in front of the camera. Celebrity moms-to-be like Angelina Jolie-Pitt and Katie Holmes made designers take note in the early 2000s. During this time, the maternity clothes industry grew by 10 percent as designers like Michael Stars and Juicy Couture began to create plunging V-necks, floor scraping maternity gowns, and chic tops for a growing baby bump.

Today, maternity gowns have no boundaries. Many women aim to look chic and smooth during pregnancy. Maternity dresses aim to highlight that women still live very active, fit lifestyles while they’re pregnant. Brands like Spanx have developed popular maternity wear for pregnant women that includes form-fitting, slimming, and body shaping dresses for expecting moms-to-be. 


Women are no longer limited in their maternity fashion dress styles. A body-conscious society with an emphasis on fashion has caused maternity dresses to be ever-evolving. From working expectant mothers to celebrities, women are opting to look stylish during their pregnancy.