In a discussion, I remember not where or when, but not long ago, I’d mentioned a vague recollection of women dressing to look pregnant in the late 18th C. Trouble was, I couldn’t remember where I’d come across it . . .
It turned out to have arrived in my brain via the Cunningtons' The History of Underclothes. I hunted for their two sources and voilà—
~~~Jan. 7, 1783...On pretend that certain invisible machines, of which one heard much a year or two ago, and which were said to be constructed of cork, and to be worn somewhere or other behind, are now to be transplanted somewhere before, in imitation of the Duchess of Devonshire's pregnancy, as all under-jaws advanced upon the same principle.*
—The letters of Horace Walpole: Earl of Orford, Volume 8.
The pretty, prominent pads, which now grace the first circles of female fashion, if they have no sanction in decency, can certainly find one in precedent.— The Spectator, in one of his numbers, mentions the then prevalence of the fashion: “The first time I saw a lady dressed in one of these petticoats, I could not forbear blaming her in my thoughts, for walking abroad when she was so near her time, but soon recollected myself out of my error, when I found all the modish part of her sex as far gone as herself."
The following advertisements copied verbatim from a London evening paper, may be termed an unique:—“William Dursley, Oxford-street, near the Pantheon, (name over the door) original patentee of the present fashionable Pads, begs leave to inform the nobility and gentry, that he has just completed an extensive and Curious assortment of Ladies Pads, happily adapted to all ages and sizes, and imitating the picturesque forms of pregnancy in all its months. As several ignorant persons have taken upon them to sell pads, pretended to be W. Dursley's, he thinks it proper to insert this caution: his real Pads may be easily known from others, as being the closest imitation of nature, and the most prominent proofs of good-breeding. —His much approved Twin-pads, for court dress, may be had as usual.
— Sporting magazine, Volume 2
Illustrations: Thomas Rowlandson, 1756-1827, British, A Lady in a White Dress, wearing a Blue Hat, undated. Courtesy Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection. A Milliner’s Shop, scanned from C. Willett and Phillis Cunnington, The History of Underclothes. (You can see the color print here at the British Museum.)