How Rihanna tore up the bland Victorian rules for maternity clothes

Since announcing in January 2022 that she was expecting her first child, she has eschewed the stretchy pants and tent dresses of traditional maternity wear. Instead, she used fashion to embrace, flaunt and celebrate her changing body. She did not cover her bump but showed it in belly exposing clothes and form-fitting clothes.

From crop tops and low-rise jeans to removing the lining from a Dior cocktail dress to transform it into an outfit that celebrates the belly, Rihanna has radicalized maternity fashion and the way a pregnant body should look. perceived.

Conceal pregnancy

From corsets to baggy sweatshirts, women’s sizes have always been heavily scrutinized by society, and never more so than during pregnancy.

Often women’s maternity clothes do their best to conceal and accommodate pregnancy. Today’s advice for moms-to-be can focus on techniques for disguising pregnancy or how to make the most of pretty boring options.

Society has defined pregnancy as a liminal period for women – a time of conversion from sexually attractive femininity to matronly motherhood. Fashion is central to how young women construct their identities, but maternity fashion arguably lacks creativity. With their drab designs that adapt to a growing body rather than celebrate it, maternity clothes rob women of quirkiness, style and individuality, and confine them instead to the role of mother. Being a hot mother, let alone a hot pregnant woman like Rihanna, challenges this binary status of femininity.

Rihanna announced her pregnancy on Instagram by posting photos of her and boyfriend A$AP Rocky on February 3.


Victorian and Christian moral standards

The moral arbiters of history, the Victorians, are to blame for this conservative concern around the status of women’s bodies. Victorian moral values ​​confined women to the servant and framed their worth around their piety, purity, submission and domesticity.

Society viewed pregnancy as a conversion from sexually attractive femininity to matronly motherhood.

These Christian moral standards meant that even modes of pregnancy were euphemistically named, advertised as “for the young matron” or “for the recently married woman”. In a Puritan culture where sex was presented as something women “endured” to become mothers, pregnancy was an uncomfortable reminder of the “sin” necessary to have children. Perceived as so inappropriate, pregnancy was not even directly referenced in medical books offering advice to pregnant women, but a host of euphemisms were again employed.

However, for many mothers, the shocking infant mortality rate and likelihood of miscarriage meant pregnancy was often more dreaded than celebrated in its early stages. This anxiety meant that pregnant women could lose their freedom and power over their bodies once their pregnancy became widely known. Once pregnancy was visually evident, it could mean a mother could lose her job, be excluded from social events and confined to her home. Concealing a pregnancy therefore meant maintaining independence.

This 19th century conservatism still influences expectations for maternity wear today.

Celebrate the bump

Rihanna’s sweeping denunciation of mainstream maternity fashion puts her bump center stage. Critics called her choices indecent and “bare”, with her midriff often fully exposed, or under fringed or sheer fabrics.

Rihanna’s choices celebrate the bodily realities of pregnancy. As she told Vogue, “My body is doing amazing things right now, and I won’t be ashamed of it. This time it should be a party. Why should you hide your pregnancy?”

Much like Beyonce during her pregnancy in 2017, both women are positioning themselves as modern-day fertility goddesses, whose bodies should be revered and not hidden.

But you might be surprised to learn that Rihanna’s bump-centric styles were equally popular among Tudors and Georgians.

Rihanna being iconic

Rihanna refused to change her usual style of dress during her pregnancy.


The pregnant body in history

Prior to the 19th century, pregnancy was celebrated and enhanced through portraits and fashions designed around the pregnant woman’s body. From the 1580s to around 1630, “pregnancy portraits” became increasingly popular and could be considered a distinct subgenre of British portraiture. Marcus Gheeraerts’ Woman in Red, painted in 1620, is a wonderful example of this trend. Rather than being hidden, the impending arrival of an aristocratic heir was realized and celebrated on the web and through fashion.

Perhaps most fabulous was a 1793 fashion of wearing a fake bump under your dress, known as a belly pad. Although the purpose of the belly pack has been disputed, commentators at the time referred to it as a pregnancy mimic.

Rihanna’s radical maternity fashion is a feminist act.

In April 1793, a journalist from The sun The newspaper reported that “Standing in a shop of an acquaintance of mine, a distinguished young woman came in and asked for a Pad. The man asked her what size: She replied, about six months. Women across history have celebrated the power of the bump.

There’s something rather joyful about Rihanna’s radical pregnancy fashion choices. She shatters the misogynistic and absurd Victorian notions of female decency that society clings to. Rihanna’s maternity fashion isn’t just for pregnant women. Rihanna’s radical maternity fashion is a feminist act – we can all dress, show and experience our bodies however we see fit, no matter what they look like. Fashion is an important part of how we express our identities, and a transition into motherhood shouldn’t erase the person we were before. So if you’re pregnant, why not break out of the maternity clothes box and adopt something a little bolder, a little more you?

Serena Dyer, Lecturer in History of Design and Material Culture, De Montfort University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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