When I was pregnant last year, I started searching for moderately priced clothes that were as comfortable as they were stylish. For the most part, I found garments heavy on the ruching, light on the fashion.
Frustrated, I made a capsule wardrobe from clothes I treasure-hunted in my own closet and, except for undergarments, ended up not buying any maternity clothes.
By month seven, when my gait had turned into a waddle, shopping my closet had become sport. And I was scarcely the only woman going off-script when it came to maternity style.
Remember a very pregnant Kerry Washington wearing a crop top to the Screen Actors Guild awards early this year? Prada or not, it was a gutsy choice. Washington’s look was high-concept, but indicative of how far maternity wear has evolved since its initial deliverance, courtesy of Liz Lange in the late 1990s, and how, more recently, pregnant women, on and off the red carpet, have tossed any remaining rules overboard.
Some women are boycotting traditional maternity clothes altogether, wearing their favorite nonmaternity brands. Some are shopping newer lines with the intention of wearing the clothes post-baby. Others wear what they own.
Neither a tricked-out closet nor a stylist’s masterly hand are required to turn your closet into a baby bump boutique. I began with a swift edit, pulling out tent, shift and A-line dresses, peplums tops, tunics and anything that resembled an Empire waist. By the time I was big enough for New Yorkers to give up their seat on the train, shirtdresses and drawstring pants paired with a structured blazer had become my staples.
Julee Wilson, the style and beauty editor at Huffington Post, who chronicled her pregnancy adventures for the site, appreciated Washington’s envelope-pushing at the awards show. “While I haven’t worn a crop top during my pregnancy, it was empowering to see her do it,” Wilson said. “I also really loved Gwen Stefani’s maternity style. She was the embodiment of not losing herself or her fashion sense to her bump.”
Women lose many things to their growing bellies: sleep, muscle tone, the ability to see their feet. But increasingly they’re less inclined to forfeit fashion.
“It’s not about buying a completely separate wardrobe for 10 months and dismissing it soon after the baby arrives,” Wilson said. “Economically, that isn’t smart, but I’m also not staying true to who I am if I’m simply buying any and everything that’s made for a pregnant woman, but doesn’t align with my style.”
Wilson had her baby in July, and mostly she refashioned her wardrobe, buying only a handful of maternity outfits. Her favorite gets were a slate-colored, jersey Vivienne Westwood dress she bought on Net-a-Porter for her baby shower and a black jumpsuit she bought at a Destination Maternity outlet. She says both have gotten significant mileage.
Rachel Blumenthal said it was hard to find maternity clothes worth a double take. “What I saw was matronly and down-market,” she said. “What I did find appealing, retailers were marking up just because it was maternity.”
Blumenthal, who is the chief executive of Crickets Circle, a website that reviews products for expecting and new mothers, and the wife of Neil Blumenthal, a founder of Warby Parker, said she relied on a uniform of long cardigans, fitted tops with leggings and high boots during her winter pregnancy three years ago. A pair of Ingrid & Isabel leggings and a maternity coat from Gap were the only maternity pieces she bought.
For those who prefer to stick to proper maternity clothes, Sheila Aimette, the vice president for North American content for WGSN, a trend forecasting company, said she had seen positive shifts in the market, with J.Crew, Gap, H&M, ASOS and Topshop all offering fresh and affordable maternity options.
A small label called Imanimo, based in Tel Aviv, has smart styles ranging from $60 to $150. Fourth Love, a New York company that manufactures in the United States, has casual pieces with stylish details fitting for your newfound shape ($80 to $200). Séraphine, a maternity brand out of London that made its debut in March, has Gwen Stefani and Kate Hudson as admirers.
Hatch, created by Ariane Goldman, the designer behind TwoBirds bridesmaid dresses, has quickly earned a cult following with its on-trend styles. It makes little differentiation between pre- and postpartum wear.
The trendy can look to the jumbo shapes seen on many recent runways. “Sweaters and T-shirts, I bought a large or medium, and I loved men’s and oversized stuff,” said Janel Molton Hertz, a brand-marketing consultant who lives in Manhattan. “It looks cooler.”
For splurges, sites like Totokaelo sell designer wares with cuts and draping that playfully hug the body, like Zero & Maria Cornejo, Rachel Comey, Acne Studios and Raquel Allegra.
An informal survey shows that J. Brand, Paige Denim and Citizens of Humanity maternity jeans are bump-friendly, with elastic panels and designs that are a universe away from mom jeans. The elastic band isn’t visible (unless you’re in a crop top), so the jeans are perfectly wearable post pregnancy.
Finding something for a special occasion is the real challenge. Instead of trolling and scrolling up and down store aisles or Web pages, Aimette suggested maternity consignment haunts. After your shindig ends, you can resell.
A search for the hashtags #maternitystyle, #pregnancystyle or a specific week of gestation – on Instagram or Pinterest – produces pages of inspiration posted by women and will show doubters that being chic and pregnant are not mutually exclusive.
But Molton found her muse among tastemakers like Julia Restoin Roitfeld, who now has an aspirational mommy blog.
“If you see a picture of her at six months in Tom Ford, she makes you feel like you want to get pregnant,” Molton said, joking.