Manners, Customs, Clothing
Immodest Trends in Maternity Wear
Marian T. Horvat
For some time now, I have thought that a word should be said about one particular area in the ever-deteriorating fashion field. I refer to the section called maternity wear.
Maternity clothing as a specialized fashion item only appeared at the beginning of the 20th century. In general, it was designed to cover – in as dignified way as possible – the growth of the baby in the woman’s womb. Objectively speaking, during pregnancy the body becomes misshapen. Therefore, it is appropriate, according to Catholic morals, to be discreet in showing that temporary distortion, while not being ashamed of it.
This change in the body results from a woman’s high mission to be a mother. Nonetheless, that change in the body is normally unpleasing to the sensibilities of the woman and, I would add, of the man as well. I believe that this sublime body irregularity is an invitation for the mother to be less active socially and stay at home more doing all she can to best influence the small being she is shaping in her womb.
As a consequence, pregnant women – from famous personalities to the simple housewife – used to avoid being photographed and in the public eye, especially as the time of giving birth neared. And thus also they chose clothing designed to hide, rather than reveal, the body shape.
Elegance and discretion in maternity dresses
In the picture at left, you see famous women from two different generations wearing tailored maternity suits, which follow essentially the same pattern. At the far left is a rare picture of the pregnant Queen Elizabeth, taken in 1963 when she was carrying Prince Edward. The smock-style swing jacket was elegant and yet comfortable, discreetly screening the baby-to-be.
In the United States, Jacqueline Kennedy set the style for American housewives, who copied her clothing, shoes, hats, pearl necklace and hairstyle. In the middle picture, an actress playing Jackie in a recent film about the Kennedys wears a replica of a stylish light-blue maternity dress she wore when pregnant with son John in 1960. Twenty years later, Princess Diana, bearing William in 1982, wears a loose green smocked coat with black trim and a matching hat.
I can already hear the objection: “Oh, yes, but these ladies were all wealthy and could afford tailored suits. What about the average woman who was stuck with frumpy clothing before stores had special maternity sections like they do today?”
Patterns helped ladies to dress well during pregnancies
I disagree that women used to be frumpy during pregnancy. I have seen pictures of my own middle-class relatives who had their children in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and they had maternity wear that was proportionately stylish and tasteful. They bought patterns that imitated the dresses they saw their peers wearing, and then made their own maternity dresses. These were lovely tailored suits for church and dress-up occasions and simple dresses for daily wear, and nothing clung tightly.
It is interesting to note that, except for the addition of maternity slacks, maternity wear was not as strongly influenced by the ‘60s Cultural Revolution.
Then, in the 1990s, as Hollywood stars began to shamelessly flaunt their out-of-wedlock pregnancies, the maternity market changed drastically. The blatant immorality, disregard for conventions and vulgarity of these “stars” were reflected in the clothing they chose to wear.
Tight fitting tops that revealed every line of the “baby bump” – as they irreverently called the developing child – came into fashion. What used to be discreetly hidden was, almost overnight it seems, brazenly flaunted.
Modern celebrities shamelessly flaunt their bodies
Plunging v-necks, cut-outs, sheer fabrics, and even maternity bikinis – there is no limit to what can be viewed and apparently no regard for what should be seen. Having a baby has become a public affair, and we are all obliged to assume the unpleasant burden of watching every inch growth of the burgeoning abdomen of the modern pregnant woman. A compliment to the unabashed mother-to-be can even trigger her to raise her skin-tight top to proudly display a bare stomach. You may even receive the prosaic invitation: “Do you want to feel him/her?”
Now, I readily acknowledge the sublimity of maternity, but I would rather not see pregnant women’s abdomens, and certainly not touch them…
The loss of shame
This kind of display of the pregnant body would have been unimaginable even 20 years ago. What is its cause?
For some time, women have been accepting fashions contrary to the sense of modesty, which should be the most beautiful adornment of a Catholic woman. But this new trend to flaunt the pregnant body reveals more than a loss of modesty: It demonstrates a complete loss of any sense of shame. Truly, such clothing is shameless. Shouldn’t the name apply as well to the women who wear them?
Today the Cultural Revolution is fast returning to Paganism. Everywhere are its signs: nudity, body tattoos, macabre and occult practices, the increasing presence of Satan in fashion and art. In this revolutionary tide we can add the modern pregnant woman who does not appear so different from he pagan tribal woman of the pre-Christian era.
At times when I was young, I came across pictures showing such nude, pregnant women in National Geographic magazines. I would carefully avert my eyes, embarrassed for the poor women who showed their naked swollen bodies. Today, pictures of that sort can be found in celebrity and fashion magazines on the racks of many grocery stores. It no longer shocks the public to find a nude and pregnant Britney Spears on the Harper’s Bazaar cover or an equally bare Claudia Schiffer on Vogue. Even a recent Time magazine featured a completely naked and very pregnant woman “floating” on its cover.
Naked pregnant celebrities on magazine covers
But who feels the need to avert their eyes today? It is not only the one who wears such clothing who loses her shame; her mode of dress is also harmful to her neighbor. By following the tyranny of fashion, she not only transgresses the norms of modesty but increases the general corruption of society.
If she realized what she was doing, would a young Catholic woman follow this indecent new fad that is a cause of such evil? It is my hope that she would not.
The duty of opposing this tendency
Already in 1917, Pope Benedict XV was warning against “certain modes of dress women are beginning to accept that are harmful to society because they are a cause of evil.” When he learned that members of the Catholic Women’s Union had adopted a resolution to be irreproachable in their manner of dress, he praised them and encouraged the initiative: “In so doing, they will first of all fulfill a duty: that of not giving scandal to others, of not hindering those who wish to advance in virtue.
“Second, they will show their understanding of their broader mission in the world, not only giving good example in the home, but also in public places.” (1)
He called the ladies who exercise “this important apostolate” of dressing irreproachably “courageous militants.” Anyone who knows how much courage it takes to stand against the current, to refuse to follow the latest fad, realizes how apt this title is.
It seems to me that today we are strongly in need of such courageous militants to combat the new trends in maternity wear. Perhaps groups of Catholic mothers might join together in the same boat to make a powerful flotilla to sail against these shameful new fashions. The Italian Catholic Women’s Union made a resolution, “to be irreproachable in dress.” Couldn’t women today make a similar resolution and then enforce it in charity among themselves as a first step toward rejecting the revolutionary modern fads in maternity wear?
I am already hearing objections: “How can I tell another lady her shirt is too tight or that she should not be showing her abdomen? Were I to say this, it might hurt her feelings and she would think badly of all traditionalists. This would be a lack of charity!”
The modern woman thoughtlessly follows the fashion...
Actually, it is not I who suggest that fashion norms be enforced in circles of principled Catholic women. In his address to the Catholic Women’s Union, Benedict XV first encouraged other women around the world “to form associations to combat indecent fashion, “as far as their influence reaches.” Then he firmly insisted that these principled women should take a strong stand and not tolerate indecency in their presence:
“It is not superfluous to remark that every lady of rank – and the higher she is in the social scale, the more strict her obligation – must not tolerate in her presence any indecency in the mode of dress. An opportune warning would forestall any repetition of such an impertinent violation of true hospitality.“
A correction can be kindly made, but it should be made. The natural delicacy and goodness of the feminine spirit will find a hundred ways to enforce with consideration and charity the high standards of modesty and morality in dress that are adopted.
Such corrections in fact demonstrate true charity, because the “courageous militant” who makes it has in mind the good of her neighbor and the whole social order.
1. Allocution to Italian women of October 21, 1919, in The Woman in the Modern World, ed. by the Monks of Solesmes, Daughters of St. Paul, 1959 pp. 28-29.
2. Ibid., pp. 29-30.
Posted October 15, 2010
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