The New Maternity Chic
Leah Bourne, 05.04.09, 06:00 PM EDT
Mothers-to-be are showing off their fashion sense and their figures.
It wasn’t that long ago that an expectant mother was relegated to wearing doll’s clothes: smock tops with trim and big buttons, dropped waists and dresses with floppy bows and oversized collars.
The thought was that all the bells-and-whistle accents would distract the eye from the mother’s growing midsection, but the effect was far more clownish. Those days are over.
A rising number of pregnant women are showing off their fashion sense and their figures, thanks to a slew of A-list celebrities and mostly female maternity designers. The modern mom-to-be’s closet matches the stylish and spirited maternity fashions that are huge hits on the red carpet, the tabloids and the playgrounds of Beverly Hills.
“We live in a culture that is celebrity obsessed,” says fashion pioneer and former Vogue editor Liz Lange, who started her eponymous maternity collection 11 years ago. “Celebrities understand how to wear sexy and chic clothing when they’re pregnant, and consider it not only the right way to go, but the only way to go. American women see that, and they want to look that way too.”
But as the maternity clothing market has changed in the last generation, many career women are struggling with their new choices. Lange offers her four “pregnancy 2.1″ essentials for working moms-to-be: a pencil skirt and matching coat of the same length, a little black dress and a twin set. “You [can] make a whole bunch of looks from mixing them up in different ways,” she says. Another must? A sheath is attractive and easy to wear; solids are less memorable than prints and a more economical purchase.
“We always recommend [keeping] it simple and [investing] in clean lines that you can dress up or down,” says Vanessa Knox-Brien, one of the designers behind the London-based online maternity retailer, Isabella Oliver, a favorite of Angelina Jolie when she was pregnant with twins Knox Leon and Vivienne Marcheline. “Most of our collection features wrapping or ruching. These features are perfect for the pregnant shape–they give a fabulous fit at every stage and are very flattering.”
Project Runway winner Christian Siriano, who has a ready-to-wear line that was just picked up by Saks Fifth Avenue, launched a capsule collection of maternity wear called Fierce Mamas this spring, and suggests that women stay within a budget by buying just a few staple maternity items that can then be styled with accessories. “Don’t lose your entire fashion sense,” says Siriano. “And if you didn’t have one to begin with, it’s the perfect time to create one for yourself.”
Celebrities have not only upped the ante in terms of trendy maternity fashion, but they have also started a revolution in showcasing their pregnant bellies. Kate Hudson, rumored to have gained 60 pounds when she was pregnant, wore a sheer Chanel blouse and floor-length skirt cut to show off her four-month-expecting physique at the 2003 Venice Film Festival. While eight months pregnant with her twins, Jennifer Lopez donned a black gown paired with a python belt cinched below her bust at a UNICEF fundraiser in 2008. And Isla Fisher was spotted last year in her final trimester walking around in Los Angeles in low-slung jeans and a figure-hugging blouse.
Entire lines–yes, including bikinis–target the new consumer appetite for curve-flaunting. “About five years ago women started to want to show off their pregnancy,” says Rebecca Matthias, president and chief creative officer of Destination Maternity Corporation, which includes the A Pea in a Pod, Motherhood Maternity and the Destination Maternity collections. “Now there is an entirely new perception of what looking beautiful while pregnant is.” Matthias, a former architect, started Mothers Work, her first collection, in 1982 to address the needs of a growing segment of women who were going to the office right up until their first contraction.
Showing off curves has become more acceptable, but women still need to be mindful not to wear overly tight clothing to the office. Stick to tailored dresses and skirts paired with a sweater or a jacket to maintain a professional look. “Oversized clothing is sloppy and messy looking, and it frankly makes [women] look big as opposed to pregnant, which is adorable and celebratory,” says Lange. “Don’t try to hide your pregnancy.”
Finally, when putting together your maternity wardrobe, avoid buying maternity clothes until you actually need them, instead of in one fell swoop. A better bet is to purchase a couple of things here and there throughout your trimesters. It will save money, certainly, but it’s also very difficult to predict how–and where–you will fill out.