Looking for Maternity: Dress Collections and Embodied Knowledge

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Fashion Theory - Journal of Dress Body and Culture, 2019, 23 (3), pp. 401 - 439
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© 2019, © 2019 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. Childbearing accounted for a large proportion of women’s lives in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, yet the questions of what they wore and how they balanced bodily change and the dictates of fashion have been generally under-explored. This is especially true of object- and collections-based research where scarcity of surviving examples limited the range of material culture analysis of maternal dress and bodies in those centuries. This article complicates that seeming absence by critically considering the process of looking for maternity in dress collections. Working with evidence drawn from a database of approximately 300 garments associated with maternity studied between 2015 and 2017, this article reflects on the modes of encountering maternity therein. The object biographies of maternity-associated garments in such collections reveal the disjointed nature of the material record of pregnancy and how historical practices of reuse, storage and recording can obfuscate that record. Current perspectives on materialism and material culture in fashion studies are mobilized here to consider how a methodological combination of object-based study and recognition of the connection between material and wearer informs new narratives of embodiment contained in existing dress collections.
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