A few weeks ago, I uncovered the history of vintage maternity clothing. As fascinating as history is to the many pregnant women who write to me asking for help, what is needed are maternity clothes! It is difficult to give up your personal vintage style just because you are pregnant, or to figure out how to dress for a themed wedding or event when you feel like the size of a house! This is especially difficult seeing that vintage maternity clothes are hard to come by (and often not labeled as maternity) and to my knowledge, there are no vintage reproduction clothing companies making vintage maternity clothing. My best advice is to either sew your own clothes or use new maternity clothes and make it look vintage. Here is how I dress or would dress for each era from 1900 to 1970:
1910s Inspired Maternity Clothes
The 1910s style for dress featured a high, empire waist, and long gown for most day and evening occasions. Thankfully, a high waistband is exactly what you need to allow room for the baby bump. Most new and old “bridesmaid” dresses feature empire waists and are easy enough to find in thrift stores or maternity bridal wear. Even a loose slip dress can be used with a wide sash band at the high waist. If you have trouble finding a dress long enough, you can always layer a shorter dress over a long slip or skirt. If the dress is sleeveless, consider adding a pretty bolero jacket, silky robe, or shawl to cover your arms. My guide to making a quick Titanic era dress will work for maternity clothing too.
For nursing moms, a long straight skirt and loose blouse will be easier than a full dress.
1920s Maternity Clothes
The 1920s are the easiest of the 20th century decades to dress in vintage maternity style. 1920s dresses are just slip dresses, many without waistbands, and others with loose waist belts. It is easy enough to find a simple slip dress or drop waist dress in a size that will fit your middle. If the top is too big, you can easily take up the shoulders and narrow the side hem to make it fit. A jersey drop waist dress like this one pictured is also a great choice. While not authentic, jersey does give off the knitwear vibe that was so popular in the ’20s. Accessorize your dress with a cloche hat, long necklace, and comfortable shoes. Look here for easy ’20s costume ideas that can be adapted for maternity wear.
For nursing moms, a mid-shin or knee-length pleated or chiffon skirt and loose blouse will work well.
1930s Inspired Maternity Clothes
The 1930s start to get a little trickier for maternity clothing. The slim, shaped, silhouette of the ’30s means you can’t be camouflaged under a loose fitting slip dress. However, some slip dresses are perfect for a ’30s look. I love floral print chiffon dresses (popular in the ’90s and again in summer time now) with ruffled or flutter sleeves and hemlines. They probably won’t have a matching belt with it (which many ’30s dresses had), so you can cut your hem off a little to make a matching belt, or just not worry about it.
The other common ’30s style maternity dress is the wraparound dress. Many modern maternity dresses are still made in the wrap style. This is the best type of dress for nursing moms too. Do look for a dress with an adjustable wrap, not a faux wrap, otherwise, you will outgrow it in no time. There are many patterns for wrap around maternity dresses sold at your local craft and sewing supply stores too.
1940s Style Maternity Dresses
The wrap dress made popular in the 1930s continued to be a hot item in the 1940s as well. With shorter hemlines (to the knee), most modern maternity wrap dresses are ideal for the ’40s look. Another style to consider is the shirtwaist dress. With buttons running half way or all the way up the dress, it is a great idea for both maternity and nursing moms. Maternity versions have side ties or a long tie belt to gather in the dress, which would fit like a tent if it didn’t have the ties.
Among modern maternity clothes, shirtwaist dresses don’t seem very popular. You can buy a regular shirtwaist dress and just up your size. I love Effie’s Heart brand dresses because they are made with a stretchy knit. I was able to wear my normal size my entire pregnancy.
For a 1940s and 1950s pinup look, there are some great modern dresses available. These “wiggle” dresses fit snugly and hug the body all over. The ruching across the dress makes them expandable as the bump grows. They are certainly as “sexy” as vintage-inspired maternity clothes can be.
One more casual ’40s look is the “Rosie the Riveter” style with overalls, blouse, and a hair scarf. While I’ve never seen maternity overalls in the ’40s, I do LOVE wearing overalls when i’m prego. Not having a waistband is SO much more comfortable for me. I find used overalls at the thrift store (buying a size or two up) and matching it with a ’40s style top and cute headscarf, a la Rosie style. It’s perfectly vintage for casual or everyday wear. Thankfully, overalls are back in fashion. A few years ago, they were not, and before i “looked” pregnant I wore them into a trendy part of town anyways, where a group of young women snickered at my lack of fashion. : ( While non-prego ladies may not understand my love affair with overalls, all my prego friends thought my look was brilliant!
1950s Maternity Clothes
What I love most about ’50s style maternity clothes are capri pants and tunic tops! While shirtwaist dresses were still worn in the ’50s, it’s nice to get out of dresses once in a while and wear some other vintage inspired clothing. Capri pants or even regular long skinny maternity pants work great for ’50s bottoms. Paired with a tunic style maternity top (or short ’60s shift dress), you have an instant maternity and nursing friendly style. Where to find maternity tunic tops is tricky. Most modern maternity tops are designed to show off the bump, not hide it.
My secret source? Asian markets. The current trend for all things vintage and “cute” style is predominantly set by Asian countries like Korea, Japan, and Taiwan. My only word of caution is that Asian clothing runs very small on Western body types. Always order at least one size up above the size chart.
On American sites, many of the ’60s style clothing popular right now will still look ’50s. Tunic dresses, shift dresses and “mini dresses” can also work well as tops over a pair of pants. I also LOVE dresses made from stretchy knits. Effie’s Heart and Karina Dresses are the best! Cute vintage prints and comfy material.
Don’t forget maternity pencil skirts, capri pants, and full circle skirts are also very ’50s.
1960s Style Maternity Dresses
Speaking of ‘60s fashions, pretty much all clothing currently in fashion is inspired by the ’60s. From boho embroidered peasant tops to classic shift dresses all the way to mod colorblock mini dresses. Pulling of a ’60s look will not be hard. Many modern maternity dress are short, waistless, sleeveless dresses that echo ’60s style. Many come in pastel or bold almost neon colors that were also popular in the ’60s. Add a pair of go go boots and a ’60s bouffant and you are all set.
These are just a few ideas to help you create a vintage look while prego. To help with your search, check out my links page here for all my favorite vintage inspired maternity clothes online. If you need help finding something specific, feel free to contact me for help.
1970s Maternity Dresses
I wonderful thing about the return to 1970s fashion is how perfect the dresses are for maternity wear. I love the peasant or boho dresses, maxi dresses, and wrap dresses. They are loose enough you won’t need maternity-specific dresses. Long skirts and flowing hippie tops are also a perfect pairing.
For casual looks, consider the wide leg palazzo pants and a loose blouse. Jumpsuits and overalls also make very comfortable retro maternity clothes (no waistband!!!)
One expense I didn’t anticipate was needing a maternity swimsuit. They can be very expensive, so my advice is to size up and look for swimsuits with ruched sides. They flatter well and are a bit easier to find and afford. Swim dresses are another option many women love. Shop swimsuits.
Where to shop for vintage maternity dresses and clothing?
- Effie’s Heart – Love these cute, simple dresses made of stretchy knits. Made in the USA.
- Karina Dresses – A few ’40s and ’50s style dresses in fun prints made of stretch knits.
- Target – Great for essentials. Leggings, tank tops, shirts, jeans and shorts.
- ASOS (USA and UK) – Cute, trendy dresses and separates.
- BooHoo (USA and UK) – Many 70s retro maternity clothes.
- Macy’s – Many good brands, a bit higher-end and more trendy.
- Nordstrom – I love the Kimi brand.
- JC Penney – Affordable maternity clothes.
Debbie Sessions has been teaching fashion history and helping people dress for vintage themed events since 2009. She has turned a hobby into VintageDancer.com with hundreds of well researched articles and hand picked links to vintage inspired clothing online. She aims to make dressing accurately (or not) an affordable option for all. Oh, and she dances too.