I will never forget a few things about my current pregnancy: the call from my doctor’s office informing me I was with child; my baby’s first kicks; and — a significantly less happy milestone — my first pair of maternity jeans.
This being my first pregnancy, I was able to hold out until well into my second trimester, which is longer than suggested by pregnancy apps that arbitrarily tell you when your fetus is mango-sized. But after multiple failed attempts to buy maternity jeans online, and my stomach had expanded enough to where I could barely squeeze into my favorite stretchy jeans, I knew I had to actually go shopping. After a quick online search, I headed to the least hideous maternity store I could find in Manhattan.
My friends who work in fashion for a living had already told me: “There are no good maternity jeans” and “Do not wear maternity clothes,” citing very obvious, widely documented aesthetic concerns. Apparently our primary choices (and this is truly absurd) fall into one of two categories — boring basics with added belly ruching, or the inevitable muumuu. As determined as I was to make like Gisele Bündchen and wear my normal clothes throughout my entire pregnancy, it quickly became clear that I am not Gisele Bündchen. As my belly expanded and I worried about my growing fetus – getting gradually more squished into its environs – a paisley muumuu from the suburban maternity mall store of my nightmares started to seem like not the worst idea.
I also waited as long as possible to buy maternity clothes because figuring out how to dress a pregnant body for the first time, let alone finding great-fitting expandable jeans, is an ordeal. Partly because maternity fashion seems to be an afterthought of the clothing industry, which expects women to abandon their sense of style, and therefore sense of self, during the pregnancy and post-pregnancy months when their normal clothes aren’t an option. When you consider that women have been giving birth for millions of years, it’s utterly perplexing that the best innovation in maternity apparel seems to be attaching pieces of Spanx to pants as the de facto solve for preventing them from ending up around your ankles. As someone who has spent more than a decade working in fashion media (and knew full well that maternity clothes wouldn’t exactly offer Gucci runway-level realness), I was still surprised at my inability to find pants that didn't make me feel like a jeggings-swaddled potato.
After ordering and returning no less than six pairs of maternity jeans from Shopbop, I finally ventured out to an actual store. I had exclusively tried on jeans with added elastic at the front pocket area, designed to allow them to stretch as a pregnancy progresses. But none of them fit, even the expensive ones. The shocking thing about maternity jeans is how low they have to ride in the front to allow your belly to extend outward. And it's not easy to fashion a pant that will fit a waist that’s like a leavening piece of dough. Some pairs rode down so low that I may as well have been wearing leg warmers — a one-way ticket to plumber’s butt.
I had been determined not to go into either a maternity store or “full band” territory. For the pregnancy illiterate, this means a pair of jeans affixed with what is essentially a piece of shapewear that attaches where normal pants would have a normal waistband. Quite unlike normal pants, the band extends over your bump and well toward your boobs to keep your jeans from falling down — a one-way ticket to feeling like a 90-year-old man.
After some aggressive searching, I grabbed several pairs of the most modern-looking styles I could find and headed to the dressing room. And, when I say “the most modern-looking,” make no mistake — these weren’t the maternity version of Gigi Hadid’s high-waisted distressed mom jeans that look wonderfully older than she does. Because sadly, if you’re pregnant in 2018, you quickly learn fashion trends are not on your side. Despite their name, mom jeans aren’t really for us future moms at all.
The first pair of jeans I tried on were more or less cute — dark, stretchy, slightly cropped, straight-leg — but the button and fly were so low on the waist I felt indecent, despite the protection of the band.
I ran out of the fitting room, worried I was doing it wrong.
“Is the button supposed to be this low?” I asked the saleswoman.
“Yes, that’s normal. It just takes getting used to,” she told me.
“So, you’re saying these look like they fit me?” I asked, somewhat horrified. She asked me if they were tight in the thigh area, and when I said no, she assured me they did.
Because sadly, if you’re pregnant in 2018, you quickly learn fashion trends are not on your side.
Ultimately, I ended up buying the two pairs that offended me the least for an upcoming trip I had to California and, hopefully, the remainder of my pregnancy. I realized my adjustment to the world of maternity dressing was just beginning, and now, I had to get comfortable with the corresponding world of extra-long tops. Because finding the three sole non-cropped sweaters in a store full of a hundred sweaters quickly becomes an exercise in futility.
This is why, ultimately, maternity clothes ironically become more appealing as a pregnancy progresses. It’s exhausting (and you’re pregnant — you’re already exhausted) to find things that fit you. And any vanity you have about this gradually evaporates as you get bigger and just want to be comfortable and hide the deeply unsexy maternity-ness of your jeans with as little effort as possible.
I recently visited my sister, who has two small kids, and took a bunch of her former Gap and Old Navy maternity clothes, which I love. My favorite piece of maternity denim has become the Gap cutoffs she passed down to me which, instead of a band, have elastic at the pockets and somehow manage not to ride indecently low. I’d also like to add how appreciative I am that when you shop the maternity sections of the Gap and Old Navy sites, they serve you “maternity friendly” non-maternity styles, which greatly expand your menu of options. Not to mention your sense of stylishness.
As I progress throughout my pregnancy, figuring out what meager options I have to work with, it’s become so clear: The clothing industry desperately needs more innovation and more options for pregnant shoppers. Even though I ultimately found my Official Maternity Jeans, what they really feel like is Official Compromise Jeans — the universe telling me that no one sees moms or expectant moms as sexy or cool, so why bother even offering them clothing that might make them feel that way?
Meanwhile, most of us have to buy new clothes and don’t want to feel forced to totally sacrifice our style while we do it. Pregnancy and motherhood, by definition, are about making a sudden series of significant sacrifices involving our time, our sense of self, and our bodies. And even though we know it will all be so worth it, it would be nice if cute jeans, one of life's most basic pleasures, weren't just another one of the things we had to give up in the process.