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Mamacita: Wearing Maternity with Style

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Muumuus, caftans, potato sacks: dressing for pregnancy was a lot easier back when you didn’t have as many choices. This is one area of the “modern girl’s life,” that’s chronicled so endlessly in chick lit and self-help sections at the local reading megaplex, that I could frankly do without. Am I grateful that some designers have thoughtfully remembered the expectant mom as both a consumer and an arbiter of taste? Yes. And it’s true that maternity clothes are much cuter now. But honestly, the pressure to look like Denise Richards in a strappy gown during her eighth month can be as overwhelming as the thought of impending motherhood.

Back in my 20s, when I worked on staff at various fashion magazines, my pregnant bosses would have small elastic V-shaped panels sewn into the sides of their slim Gucci pants for pregnancy and removed immediately post-partum, when they snapped back to their pre-baby form (with a little help from Pilates and cigarettes) in mere weeks. That was when Liz Lange’s maternity business was still in its infant stage, and a boxy black button-down from the mall-chain maternity store was the best a chic mommy could hope for. An acquaintance of mine, whose father was as short as she was and as round in the belly, borrowed his custom-made dress shirts in her later months and wore them with leggings. Not my thing but it worked for her.

Now that I’m pregnant (with twins, no less) and the gap between the bottom of my shirt and the top of my pants is widening by the day, I’m realizing how having too many options isn’t necessarily a good thing. It’s like the ballot of a presidential primary, or a diner menu. More doesn’t mean better.

Here’s what I’ve found to be the best strategies for a fashionable (but not ridiculously so) pregnancy:

1. Buy larger sizes to stretch over that protrusion for the duration of gestation: Anyone who darts off to the mall maternity store at the first glimpse of a double pink line is in for a long ten months (Who knows where the nine came from? Pregnancy lasts for forty weeks.) Weed through the clothing you own, separating the larger sizes and more forgiving shapes—an empire waist, a loose-fitting dress, longer t-shirts and tops that will cover the waist band of your straining pants generously—from the pre-pregnancy sizes. Put the smaller stuff in the back of the closet, or stow it away in garment bags so as not to torture yourself daily. Work with this for as long as possible, and fill in gaps with some inexpensive flowy tops and generously cut jeans a size or two large than you’d usually wear. NOTE: sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. I’m pregnant with twins, so my ‘real people clothes’ had to be put away sooner rather than later.

2. Befriend knitwear. Pre-pregnancy, no one could pay me to wear a knit dress or skirt. Clingy cashmere or slinky jersey gripped every little bulge on my body, and not in a good way. Now, heavier-weight knits are my best friend. In addition to long cozy sweaters and hip-length tank tops and t-shirts that stretch over my “bump,” a short-sleeve black cashmere knee-length dress with a flattering neckline has become a gorgeous staple on the wardrobe rotation. It’s stretchy enough to accommodate my expanding form, just fitting enough to create a flattering shape that doesn’t attempt to hide my pregnancy, and thick enough not to expose too much. The trick is to find one that isn’t too flimsy: look for heavier weight knits similar to sweatshirt material or 4+ply cashmere, the cozier the better.

3. Don’t get caught in the all-black trap: Every “maternity starter kit” or expectant mommy shop is stocked with a couple of stretchy black tops and bottoms, which could not be less exciting. Yes, I did just say that a black knit dress was my new best friend. But the tendency to go ALL-black, all-the-time is a mistake, in my opinion. Especially when it comes to stretch fabrics, which easily become faded and misshapen in the wash. A sturdy pair of black stretch pants, a black maternity camisole or tank top, and one or two tops (maybe a wrap that ties to the side of your bust, or an empire waist number) are all good purchases. Pair them with a pretty printed or embroidered top, a sweet sweater, a pair of great-fitting jeans or a breezy low-slung skirt in a fun color. No, they’re not necessarily slimming. But who are you really fooling anyway? Have some fun.

4. Buy great earrings: Another way to play with your look is with accessories, preferably those that draw the eye upward, like bold earrings or a colorful beaded necklace. It’s also a great way to keep same-old outfits (wearing the heck out of a maternity purchase will justify the expense of a temporary wardrobe) from looking tired. Don’t break the bank. Scour accessories stores and the sale rack for something fun, since it may be your only opportunity to follow seasonal trends (when mini-skirts or towering heels aren’t an option). A dangling earring can also appear to elongate your neck, which will come in handy when your face feels a little puffy. Hey, it happens.

5. Beg and borrow (please don’t steal). When a particularly stylish mommy friend of yours offers to lend or give you her old maternity clothes, say yes, please and thank you. You may only find a few pieces you like in the pile, but that’s a few more pieces you don’t have to buy. Pass on your stash to another expectant mom when you’re through to continue the karma. Maternity and baby-specific consignment shops are also a good idea, even if it’s just to pick up someone’s old muumuu of caftan for a laugh. Because there are going to be days when you’re begging to hide underneath one of those tents. And some things, it seems, just never go out of style.


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