Saturday, July 12, 2014

Medieval Nursing Dresses

My kiddo is still on the boobajuice, and Pennsic is fast approaching.  Up to this point I've been wearing the same, sad outfit to every SCA event we've been day-tripping to.  Unfortunately for me, that will not be possible at Pennsic without becoming very stinky very quickly... so more nursing dresses. 

Which means, more research into HOW medieval women nursed their children.  Even today Boob Access is an issue, though you'd never guess it from our advertising world.  I say "if I can get a breast out, it's a nursing top" and that is pretty much true.  There seem to be several ways our ancestresses handled this particular life-stage, and I get the feeling that dress seams got split & re-sewn on a regular basis.

The main one seems to be the front slit, which goes from early representations in the 900's up through to today.  The slit depth has to depend on breast height, and methinks some artists took a bit of liberty in anatomy and fashion to accomplish these illustrations. 
1170 Huntarian Psalter, Psalm 71.
Aside from her breasts coming from her neck you can see a lined dress & chemise both slit in the center and a veil/wimple combo. 
Do my eyes deceive me, or does that monk have a handlebar mustache?  For those of you not in the know, this is likely Charity, who feeds "the world" from her own body.  Usually 2 men or 2 toddler boys are the ones nursing. 
1450 Jean Foquet's Lactating Mary (probably Virgin Enthroned but whatever)
OK, since I've nursed a kid, I can tell you this is totally possible.  It's reality People.  No joke.  She's just missing the leakage on the other side.  He doesn't look hungry.  I sympathize with her.
I love this gown, but I'm not sure my kiddo will sit patiently long enough for me to unlace to feed him.  You can see that the chemise has a wide enough neckline that the breast goes over it vs. having a slit.

Then there is the Front Slit with Sidless Surcote combo, which is what's been keeping us going.  I just leave the front of the dress unlaced, which is covered by the surcote and then pull the outer to the center & the under to the side & a little impatience from my kid makes a meal on the go.  This method (so far) is the most modest to modern eyes.  Most people don't even know I'm nursing unless they scare him out of his food trance & he bites me.  Good for 1100's-late 1300's

The next is a button front gown.  This is on the To-Do list just because they are so lovely and I wants one.  This gown can have both side lacing and front buttons, but I'll be honest, it looks odd in real life.
1380, Lady de la Pole and her husband Sir John de la Pole, Essex (as it happens my father's family was from Essex about the same time).  Me needs a goffered veil.
I have a tippet dress, but it's side lacing.  Was great while pregnant.  Now I want one that buttons so I can nurse.  And BUTTONS!  When I do this, I will do it with raglan sleeves and possibly a binding strip at the neckline. 
Please note, I am not this thin, and never will be.  But the style suits larger figures quite well.
Next up is the "over the neckline" nursing dress.  The necklines here are cut down far enough to allow the dress to be pulled down just a bit, so kiddo can nurse.  Usually worn in combination with a partlet of some kind or a veil, making it incredibly frustrating for costume historians to decode the exact dress construction.

Roger Van der Weyden was kind enough to give us "St. Luke Drawing the Virgin" 1435-40
The neckline is low enough that she can just lift out, nurse & put back without much fuss. 
I used to think his expression was unrealistic until my own kid did that.


Last are the chest slit fashions, mostly from Italy in the early 1500's, but some as early as the 1200's in Western Europe.  Some show lacing, but most are just gathered material that close over the bust when not in use.  I cannot see this ending well for me, so we'll skip that particular fashion.