Clothes for Pregnancy & Breastfeeding
seems that expectant medieval women favoured loose clothing much
like modern pregnant women- loose and comfortable. It is a subject
not written about greatly, so in this area, we are left to examine
period artwork for our information.
Clothes for pregnancy
At right, the 1440 painting from the right panel of a diptych
by Rogier van der Weyden shows a heavily pregnant woman in a voluminous
surcote covering her stomach. Even though the depiction of a sword
held by the subject marks this painting as clearly not a portrait,
the reasonably accurate features leads us to believe that the
clothing is not fantasy and is of the type that may have been
worn by a pregnant woman. In the later medieval period, the gathered
surcote still appears.
She appears to be wearing at
least 2 more gowns underneath- a kirtle with fitted sleeves and
another loose gown with hanging sleeves which were popular in
the 15th century.
of the most commonly depicted pregnancy scenes in medieval art
is that of Mary and Elizabeth, both of whom are heavily with child.
The paintings usually show the two women with a hand resting on
the other woman's stomach. Even in late iconography, both women
appear to wear a surcote which is large and gathers onto a neckband.
This style can be seen in the early medieval period as an everyday
dress before the fitted kirtle was introduced.
the loose over gown was worn with a tie knotted under the bust
which seems to be omitted when the woman is pregnant. In the 1445
painting The Visitation by van der Weyden, shown at left,
we also note a red gown with side lacing which is expanded to
accommodate a growing figure.
The close-up detail at right shows that the spiral side lacing.
This would still permit a fairly formfitting gown which could
be tightened afterwards. At a time where clothing was less disposable
and more highly valued, a multipurpose gown like this would be
a practical solution to the frequent pregnancies faced by medieval
Clothes for breastfeeding
Many paintings show the
Virgin Mary in the act of breastfeeding Some show the overdress
pulled awkwardly to the side or downwards, but other mothers appear
to favour front-lacing gowns for what must have been practical
An unusual image from the South Netherlands , Bruges or France
(probably Valenciennes) dated between 1485 -1490 shows a gown
with two buttons for easy breastfeeding.