From surviving the rigours of labour to how to rid your mind of that horrific birth story your colleague told you, to whether you and your partner will ever agree on a name, to what happens after you actually give birth, being pregnant provides one with more than enough scenarios to fret about. Wardrobe worries might seem superficial compared to the massive changes you’re going through but look a little closer and they’re very much intertwined.
The past year has seen celebrities like Rihanna and Rosie Huntington Whitely making fashion statements of their baby bumps, while brands like Nike and SKIMS launched dedicated maternity ranges. Is it finally possible to dress well while expecting? "For the longest time, maternity wear had been relegated to the back of brands’ minds, and expectant mothers had little choice when dressing their ever changing bodies," explains Lyst's retail data expert Morgane Le Caer. Suddenly, "highly scrutinised celebrity pregnancies shone a spotlight onto maternity fashion" and inspired a change in the market. Le Caer says that while the category has expanded to include more choice, influencers wearing non-maternity clothes while pregnant proves there is still a gap in the market for trend-led ranges.
Art director Africa Daley-Clarke of @thevitamindproject has three children and honed her style to be adaptable to pregnancy, breastfeeding and "the never-ending fourth trimester". Mixing oversized styles and her favourite 'slow fashion' brands allowed her to avoid maternity wear altogether (with the exception of bras). Africa wears Monica Cordera trousers – a Spanish brand with timeless wide-legged looks that come in one size, adjustable to fit UK sizes 6 to 14 (not size-inclusive but useful if you fall within those smaller sizes) – teamed with oversized shirts and knitwear like Misha and Puff popcorn sweaters.
Blogger and podcaster Olivia Purvis of @livpurvis was able to adapt her day-to-day wardrobe while pregnant with her first baby as her taste runs to "smock dresses or A-line vintage maxi dresses – both of which work well with some sturdy tights". She continued browsing secondhand shops, sizing up and "typically picking things that wrap, or have button-downs". Olivia loved independent brands like April Meets October, Clary and Peg and Moon Mama Vintage, as well as Monki on the high street, but regretfully had to step away from her "impractical pie-crust Laura Ashley vintage favourites".
Fashion designer Doone Murphy launched her own line, Doone London, to solve the problem of breastfeeding without losing her personal style. Doone, who describes herself as "dress-mad, wearing dresses every day of the year", found herself breastfeeding in the bathroom at events as her outfits needed removing so that she could nurse. She created a range of super feminine, printed maxi dresses (not specifically maternity wear) with button-down fronts for easy access, suitable for – though not limited to – breastfeeding.
Besides oversized styles, form-fitting garments like knit separates also accommodate a changing body, notes author and speaker Katherine Ormerod, who’s been through three pregnancies. "I wore a lot of ribbed knit skirts and trousers," she says, "stretch, shirred and ribbed dresses and separates from Rixo, H&M and Club Monaco in my usual size, which clad me for the full 40 weeks."
Dressing your bump for formal situations can be trickier. Katherine recommends "Isabella Oliver – I love their stretch dresses, they fit so well and have taken me through all three pregnancies. It’s worth investing in a really good piece that can act like a blank canvas for your regular jackets and coats." Alternatively, simple black trousers and an accommodating white button-down shirt work well with a smart coat or jacket, whether or not you can fasten it.
Plus-size women have a harder time of pregnancy dressing, as writer and editor Marie Southard Ospina explains. After a relatively straightforward experience of wearing her "usual swing dresses" with her first child, "during my second pregnancy I started showing earlier and gained much more weight in my belly, as well as elsewhere. I'm a UK size 24/26 and had to contend with the lack of plus-size maternity wear and that options designed for a pregnant person's changing body weren't available." As a result, Marie adapted regular clothes. "I sized up and just accepted the fact that they'd be ill-fitting and snug around my tummy. I found one miracle jumpsuit on ASOS Curve that fit well in all the right places, that I adored." Her other favourite brands are Loud Bodies and Isolated Heroes. "Independent brands and designers often make the most interesting pieces in size fat. My style is mixed but I love gaudy, loud pieces, as well as pin-up, vintage-inspired silhouettes."
Carmen Zolman, senior design director at Nike, had multiple requirements to fulfil when working on the brand’s blockbuster maternity line. Their starting point was an analysis of more than 150,000 body scans of women globally to determine how the body grows during pregnancy. "We also worked closely throughout the design process with 30 female athletes, elite and everyday, who were either pregnant or post-partum, to listen to their needs and gather their input and ideas," she explains. The entire design process took more than three years and tested more than 70 different materials to apply the right one to every area. From her own pregnancy experience, Zolman remembers "being in the locker room and not feeling great about what I was wearing. Most of the options had ruching on the side, uncomfortable materials and the cuts just weren’t flattering. Bad design should never be a barrier for a woman to stay active and healthy, especially during and after pregnancy."
From a financial and sustainability point of view, it makes sense to work with what you have and buy only what you’ll want to keep in your wardrobe for longer than six months. "Sustainability should be a key consideration for any brand developing maternity wear," says Francesca Muston, VP of fashion at trend forecaster WGSN. "The window of use is so short compared with the length we should be aiming for the lifespan of any product." She believes that adaptable products which can be worn and modified through pregnancy and beyond, with consideration for breastfeeding, post-operation comfort and washable materials are essential.
Vintage dealer and curator Selena Williams of @Selenasshop__ has continuously dressed in colourful vintage pieces during her pregnancy. "My pregnancy journey has been a lovely time to experiment with different looks and styles to match my ever changing, growing body. Bright colours have boosted my mood and my top pregnancy wardrobe must-haves are comfy high-waisted leggings, trousers with elasticated waistbands, oversized knitwear and dungarees. At the beginning of my pregnancy I googled maternity trousers and leggings, only to find boring, overpriced pieces." Her advice? "Buy a few sizes bigger! There are tons secondhand that won’t cost you the earth."
Pregnancy, and early motherhood even more so, is like a tunnel out of which you emerge a different person. "After having my eldest, I actively rebelled against the notion that mothers should dress in respectable or modest clothing," Marie says. "I dyed my then bum-length hair bright poppy red, broke out dark, punkier lipsticks and wore my gold satin trench to the Co-op. I didn't want to lose myself and my love of sartorial expression, and my look became even more extra." The second time around, though, "I was just so tired. I had a toddler and a baby, plus work (as I'm self-employed, I couldn't take extended mat leave). I lost the energy to play with clothes and makeup, and found myself in a leggings-and-hoodie routine."
Africa describes being "very intentional with my wardrobe. For the most part, I've always invested in good quality, transitional pieces." She adds: "I've embraced the fact that my body has never stopped shifting in the 30 years I've had it. Pregnancy is no exception and there's no need to hold on to hope of returning to an older version."
Katherine observed how fluctuations in shape can throw your style. "Not pregnant I’m a 32B bust but when breastfeeding I’m a 34E, which can be disorientating. It took me well over a year to get ‘back’ to my old size and even then my body was different," she explains. "It’s hard to feel the mojo to wear super sexy things when you’re depleted, leaky and fricking exhausted! But it comes back with a little time."
"What you wear can have a huge impact on how you feel and after your body has and is continuing to change throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding, it’s so important to feel your best in a good quality piece of clothing," Doone says. "I think there’s a big hole for well made, elegant and sustainably and ethically made maternity clothes. I hope I can help fill a little part of that with my dresses."
Despite a slew of well-heeled celebrities and influencers showing us how to style your bump, and brands offering up impressive dedicated maternity collections, there’s still a gap between what pregnant people want to wear and what’s available. The lack of maternity jeans (an item it’s hard to continue wearing in regular size) in styles other than skinny came up again and again when talking to women about what they want to see from the market, while size-inclusive maternity wear is a real blind spot. Then again, a little creativity (the elastic band trick is a much-loved hack for good reason) plus trial and error in styling pre-pregnancy favourites may be just as good a solution – for the sake of our wallets and our planet.