03 April 2008

Pregnant bridal shop open for business

Considering I spent most of the holiday season in America writing an article about pregnant brides, I was chuffed to find that a maternity bridal shop has opened in the UK called Expectant Bride. For the most part, if you're pregnant and getting married, there are almost no retail outlets where you can shop. Pregnant brides are relegated to finding a dress in online stores or eBay. Not only are more pregnant brides wearing 'white', they can finally have personal consultations with a retailer that will help them find a dress that will actually fit a pregnant stomach.

Of course a shop like this causes some controversy. Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe thinks it is not an enterprise to celebrate. She said: “I think this shop is an extremely sad sign of the times.”

The pregnant bride has rarely been seen as a paradigm to be imitated; the transgressions of bodily boundaries for women during menstruation, pregnancy and lactation have historically contributed to women’s exclusion from the public sphere within Western culture (Douglas 1966; Martin 1992). The ‘ideal’ bride is, in many ways, still represented as a ‘beautiful seductress, virgin and mother’, drawing on images of Christianity, Greco-Roman beliefs about love and romance as well as beliefs about the gendered nature of ‘public’ and ‘private’ spaces.

In both Australia and the United States since World War II, nonmarital cohabitation and childbearing have increased significantly as Anglo middle-class women have had more opportunities for economic independence and education. However, these factors do not provide a complete picture of the trends away from marriage and ‘legitimacy’. Cherlin (1990) suggests, after 1960, men and women were afforded more freedom to challenge conventional paradigms of ‘family’ or ‘marriage’ such that childbearing and marriage became ‘choices’ rather than social requirements.

In particular, the selection of a wedding dress is one of the primary means by which pregnant brides challenge or submit to cultural directives surrounding marriage. Established as ‘proper’ bridal attire at the end of the nineteenth century following Queen Victoria’s marriage to Price Albert in 1840, the silk and lace white dress Queen Victoria wore culturally entrenched the necessity of a white dress in America and abroad. For decades, the pregnant bride was not considered to be a ‘legitimate’ consumer in the ‘West’; a maternity wedding dress, for example, was largely unheard of unless a bride had a dress custom-made or if she purchased a ‘normal’ wedding dress in a larger size. As the contemporary pregnancy is clearly a visible and highly commodified experience for middle-class women given the excessive costs associated with maternity fashion, baby accessories and even private prenatal care, it is no surprise that bridal retailers would capitalise on another niche market.


1 comment:

Julia said...

I just took a quick look at the retail website, clicking on the vendor photos of supposedly "expectant" women in their dresses. Maybe half don't appear to be showing at all, or perhaps barely showing. The other half appear to be somewhere in the second trimester (when pregnancy is still considered curvy and sexy, without the bloats and lumps of the third trimester).

It's funny that a shop devoted to pregnant brides doesn't have more images of VERY pregnant women.

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