August 15, 2008

Your Maternity Wardrobe - Being Stylish Without Breaking the Bank

You’re pregnant, you have nothing to wear, you can’t fit into your current clothing too well, hate or can’t afford most maternity clothing, and feel as though you will have to hide in your house in a muumuu until the little one makes his or her appearance.

You search the Internet looking for creative ways to make due with what you have, getting confirmation from complete strangers who don’t know you from Adam that it IS okay to wear your husband’s work shirts with yoga pants, that it IS okay to let your current bras give you quad-boob for just a few more weeks, that it IS okay to have your clothes be too tight and feel horrible on that growing stomach.

Well I am never one to tell people to spend money they do not have. There really are ways to stretch your current closet, stretch your wallet and still look pulled together and polished through your pregnancy. 

However, not all pregnant women are created equal. You must STOP comparing yourself to your older sister, your husband’s cousin, your coworker, your mom, your best friend. One may have started showing at six weeks, another may not have shown until 26. Your breasts may have gone from B to DD in a month’s time while your neighbor’s only went up a half of a cup size. Your colleague survived an entire pregnancy with only a Bella Band and a maternity LBD while you don’t seem to fit into your old size 8s, or even new 14s. Your friend is only a week ahead of you, yet she has a perfectly mounded baby bump and you look as though you ate two bags of Cheetos.

It’s okay. The biological aspect of your pregnancy won’t be exactly like someone else’s and how your body reacts won’t be either. This doesn’t mean you are deformed, unhealthy, fat, or wrong in any way. It just means you are human, and you are working your body to create another human as fabulous as you!

So stop going to those message boards to see if you’re a freak of nature, stop crying in front of the mirror, and love those new curves and that baby bump, even if it currently looks more like a loaf of challah bread instead of a basketball. Read the next few suggestions – not all will work for all women, but hopefully some will help you find a way to feel good, look good, and still have money left over to furnish that nursery!

1. Empty Your Closet. Your life may be a whirlwind right now, but this is a project that will save you time and money in the end. Take everything out of your closet – those bridesmaid dresses, your power suits, your out of season garments and your current attire. Then honestly assess each item. Those that can NOT fit no matter what but are items to treasure and baby (the suits, the dresses, the wool coats); store in a cloth garment bag or other closet so they are out of vision. Nothing is more depressing than feeling as though you’re fat or deformed and seeing your favorite cocktail dress mocking you from the corner of the closet. It’s okay and completely expected that it won’t fit right now – treat it well, and take it out of sight until after.

Now look at the rest of the collection. Anything else that is in great shape but either doesn’t fit now or won’t fit by time that season rolls around, carefully pack up and put on a high shelf, under the bed, or in an attic. This means the tailored shift dress, the nipped in blazers, the lined slim-fit trousers… anything that is uncomfortable before even pulling up the zipper or buttoning the front. Again, this process is about saving time each morning and saving your sanity.

What is left? Most likely it will look an awful lot like what I had leftover when I did this process – lots of dresses with some percentage of stretch in them (or made in a trapeze/babydoll fashion), a few pairs of jeans, pants, capris and shorts; a handful of knit or slightly unstructured jackets, some sweaters and knit tops. Now you need to try these items on and be honest with what is in the reflection. Is the skirt too short now that it has to accommodate a changing body? Can it REALLY look flattering and appropriate with dark tights or over jeans, or are you trying to fool yourself? The top fits in the belly, but are you exposing too much cleavage to feel comfortable? Can it work with a cami underneath, or will it ruin the silhouette? Does it fit everywhere, but is cutting off the circulation in your arms? As I always say – it’s better to have quality than quantity. Anything you feel you need to justify will just leave you feeling awkward and uncomfortable when you finally wear it. You have enough on your mind – remove all the items that you will have to constantly adjust and fiddle with to keep yourself properly and comfortably covered.

Now, what to do with those pants and skirts that do fit if you could wear them unbuttoned? Keep them in your wardrobe rotation. There are fabulous products out there called belly bands that are made specifically for this. Crafted of stretchy lycra or a similar material, these items can go over your open waistband to keep your bottoms up, and your underwear out of sight. I have one in black and they have extended the life of my work trousers, and even weekend Bermuda shorts. Ingrid and Isabel is famous for their BellaBand, but you can find similar products in maternity stores, on eBay, and if you’re feeling crafty, can whip up a few on a Sunday afternoon. You don’t need 50 – choose one or maybe two (if they are on sale) in colors that will work with your wardrobe. I invested in only one in black since most of my wardrobe is black. They may poke out under tops, so choose one that fits your sense of style as well as your wardrobe palette.

Now consider all those tops and dresses that would be fine if they covered more cleavage. You may want to either invest in a cami or two, or modify a few you already own. The great thing about cleavage-covering camis is that all people see is a little triangle of fabric. No one needs to know that you sliced off the bottom half, sliced it open, cut off the front, etc. Take a pair of scissors to your current black or white camis and make them belly-friendly. Make sure to trim carefully so it doesn’t roll under your clothing or get a run in the fabric. Don’t want to destroy what you love and plan to wear after the baby is born? Get thee to H&M, Target or even Goodwill and get a few super cheap camisoles. Don’t spend dough on maternity ones if all they are doing is keeping your breasts covered; save that money for the baby (or a pedicure!).

Now that you know what you have, and what you need to make it really work, put it back in your closet and drawers in an organized manner. Your body can change from day to day, it is very possible that you will think Monday night you will wear your blue dress but by Tuesday morning it will no longer fit. If you keep your wardrobe tidy, it will make last-minute outfit changes less stressful and time consuming. Hang up still-clean clothes as soon as you take them off, spot clean when possible and make an effort to have these few items at the ready as often as possible.

2. Invest in Transitional Pieces. Get yourself that belly band and a few camis. Don’t put it off, because that just makes your wardrobe all the more frustrating. No time to head to the mall? These items are so simple and standard you can usually score them from an online boutique at an equivalent price. Search on your lunch hour or while pasta water is heating for free shipping, coupons, or sites like eBates that will provide you with cash back on your purchase. Go ahead and put the items in a Shopping Cart and have them ready come payday to purchase.

3. Realistically Assess Your Lifestyle.
The staples for a woman’s wardrobe can sort of go out the window at this point. Your wardrobe doesn’t need to be ready for whatever life throws you, but what you realistically will be encountering over the next couple of months. You don’t need to get a LBD if you know there won’t be any dressy events in your near future. If you are an SAHM, you don’t need tailored trousers and silk blouses. If you are a corporate woman, you may not need more than one pair of jeans and a knit top or two. However, do think about what you DO need. Do you have client meetings? Church? A conservative office? Think about your pre-pregnancy wardrobe and what items got the most wear, and keep that in mind for your pregnancy clothing additions.

4. Borrow from Friends. This hasn’t worked for me because I am short and curvy, and all my friends who have children are not that same combination. However, many women who are pregnant know other women who were and will be happy to give or lend some wardrobe staples. They may not have trousers in the right length, but they may have a few knit tops, or even a belly band they would be willing to offer for a few months.

However when borrowing, use the same discretion you used when digging through your current wardrobe. Just because it’s free doesn’t mean you should take it. If it’s not in good shape, if it doesn’t fit properly or isn’t something you would enjoy wearing, it’s okay to say no. Our friends are our friends because they are unique and fabulous in their own way – you don’t have to like everything they like. You love blues and greens and your friend is offering three yellow dresses? Don’t take them just because they are free. You will already be having a hard time adjusting to a rapidly changing body, changing hair and skin; you don’t need to feel weird in a color or style that doesn’t fit your personality. It’s better to have less that you like, than a bunch of things you don’t.

Also if you have friends, who wouldn’t be offended, borrow or get non-maternity clothing from them. Maybe your mom has a few cute tunic tops from Chico’s that you usually wouldn’t wear but now seem like comfortable and fun wardrobe options. A friend who recently lost weight may have kept hold of some of her old clothes that are just a size or two larger than your original size and may now work for you. This is especially great for things like casual knits and outerwear. Again, don’t take what you won’t feel good wearing. You’ll be happier in the same black pants every day, than in garments that make you feel less than pretty, or less than yourself.

5. Hit The Thrift. Visit your local thrift and consignment stores. Yes, you will have to dig through tons of stonewashed denim jumpers and shorts, but occasionally you may strike gold. A friend found a Diane von Furstenberg maternity dress with tags still on it at her local Goodwill for only $8; a petite friend of mine found her entire maternity wardrobe at thrift stores (just as with sales racks, thrift and consignment stores often have the best stuff in the smallest sizes). She spent $40 in total and ended up with enough clothes to properly outfit herself for an office work environment and even a few weddings and holiday parties.

If at first you don’t succeed, try again. Your first visit may be horrible, but the next trip may be fabulous. Find out when they restock racks, if they receive shipments on a certain day, and even ask friends and family to search shops on your behalf. Give them guidelines (8,10 or medium, no denim, no prints, only the brands X, Y, and Z), but know that with such low prices, if they get you something you don’t love you can always re-gift to another expecting lady or re-donate without losing out.

6. Be Friends with eBay. As I type this, I am wearing a dress I got for $6.90 including shipping. Last night when I got home from work, I changed into one of three tees I got as a bundle for 99 cents plus shipping. eBay can be a pregnant woman’s best friend, or worst enemy.

As with any other eBay purchase, you need to be careful. Shop from reputable shoppers, know the brand they are offering and how it fits, as questions if the listing doesn’t answer everything. Have a price you aren’t willing to cross, and don’t cross it. So many times friends tell me they get so caught up in the thrill of the chase on eBay that they end up paying the same amount (or more!) that they would in a store. Do your homework and know what price this item is currently (or would currently) sell at a store. Shop for specific things, don’t wander aimlessly and remember what you bid on so you don’t suddenly get hit with having to pay for five different won auctions at the same time.

I have spent a total of $18 (including shipping) on eBay since I have gotten pregnant and from it have a pair of Gap jeans, a Liz Lange for Target dress, a casual knit dress, and three pretty tee shirts. You honestly can’t find those sorts of bargains at your local maternity store’s clearance rack.

7. Accept Your Changing Body.
Your breasts are going to get larger. How much and how quickly, that changes for every woman. Not only will they get larger, they will get heavier, more sensitive and often time just plain hurt. To try to stuff these breasts into your old bras is sheer torture and not healthy. Yes, bras can be expensive, but as with clothing you can often score some great bargains. Victoria’s Secret often has their bras on a two-for deal. I got two of their lightly lined cotton bras for 2/$20, online found a coupon for 15% off AND free shipping. $8.50 a bra, and they are smooth enough to go under lightweight knits and are in fun colors that make me smile. No, they aren’t the best made bras, but they will do and they keep my breasts feeling comfortable and shaped properly. Gap Maternity Online also has some good deals on bras – I got a smooth skin-colored tee shirt bra for only $11.99, had a coupon from a previous online purchase and had a promo code for free shipping. Often times you can find better prices online than you can at your local Big Box retailer – it’s worth a quick Google search before you head out to the mall.

As for underwear, if you can still fit into your pre-pregnancy underwear, awesome! I, the queen of thongs has had to retire most of them due to my new figure. Don’t tell anyone, but my cotton boyshorts from Vickie’s are now more comfortable worn backwards, and at 21 weeks I find the best fit and the least VPL from traditional briefs. I am one to encourage women to wear beautiful and feminine lingerie, but there’s nothing beautiful or feminine about pulling wedgies, having dents in your hips, or binding panties on a woman. Look for lightweight fabrics to discourage VPL, and fun colors cost the same amount as white or gray.

The end of the first trimester you may start feeling a bit unsteady on your feet and as you get into your second and third trimesters, you may have a fear of falling. You may have been a high-heel woman but by now, the extra weight, the lack of balance and the swelling tootsies may make that near impossible. I know it’s hard, I am a heel girl myself. However save yourself, your baby, your feet and your back and get a few shoes lower to the ground. If you do feel you can still rock the heels, consider a thick heel or a wedge for more stability and look into attaching non-skid pads to them. I am one who adores my shoe collection, but has started to wear the same 2-3 shoes all the time because they are comfortable and sturdy. Keep those shoes in the closet and use them with your post-baby transitional attire to get yourself back into the style swing of things. For now, be realistic, be comfortable and be safe. If you wear black a lot, a pair of black flats, Mary Janes or booties may be a great choice – look for a versatile style that can work with skirts, jeans and pants. Softer leather and fabrics will be more comfortable as feet swell. Consider a second pair in a color that makes you happy – much maternity clothing is in black and neutral colors – a pair of magenta ballet flats or emerald peep toes will add cheer and personality to your look.

8. Get out of the Maternity Boutique. There is nothing more overwhelming than a maternity boutique, especially if you are early on in your pregnancy and are starting it off with a less-than-perfect figure or budget. They are good places to stop to see many styles, and to also use that little stuffed belly attachment under clothes to ensure they will fit months from now. However if you do decide to shop at a boutique, walk past the front display, and work the store from the back to the front. Hit the sales racks first, and then look at full-priced items. Grab what size you think you are, and then one bigger or smaller (each brand seems to run differently). Take a friend who will give you an honest, yet gentle opinion. Bring a bottle of water to rehydrate. If the store his too crowded, too hot, too messy, the salespeople are too pushy, LEAVE. Return policies on maternity clothing are usually very strict and the last thing you want is buyer’s remorse with raging hormones.

Visit maternity sections of department stores and big box retailers. Shops like JC Penney will have surprisingly reasonably-priced and simple styled pieces year-round. These departments are often more relaxed (no pushy salespeople or jammed racks) so you can take your time to try things on, and usually have a better chance of getting your money back if you get home and change your mind.

Also don’t ignore the online boutiques. Shops like Old Navy have extensive online maternity collections, and most shops that sell maternity provide free return shipping if you change your mind. Gap, Target and Ann Taylor Loft often have amazing sales on their online maternity collections. A bit of Googling will often find you coupons for free delivery or at least a couple bucks off your entire order. I have found great career-wear, dresses and weekend attire most for under $12 each at the above mentioned shops and find the quality to exceed what I find in maternity-specific boutiques. If you sign up for these stores’ emails you will often receive a welcome coupon, and be notified before the public of upcoming sales.

9. Don’t Buy Maternity. When trying to have a budget wedding, experts often suggest a bride choose a bridesmaid dress in white or ivory because it will be a fraction of the cost of an actual bridal gown. The same holds true for maternity clothing.

Now, this suggestion doesn’t work for all shapes of women, but for many of you, searching the clearance racks in a size or two larger can often find you some gems at great prices. Look for items with stretch and that would flatter a bulging baby bump. Many knit pieces like yoga pants, matte jersey and sweaters with lycra will work quite well through many months of your term. If you are petite, you may want to also look at the regular sizes so you have enough length to accommodate the belly, and alterations may have to be made in shoulders or hems by a tailor. However, you can often score some amazing deals that will make these adjustments worth the money.

10. Accept Style, Not Fashion. These are really two different things, and there is no better time than when you are pregnant to accept this. You don’t need the current trend of jeans, designer brands, It shoes, accessories and certain fabrics to look fabulous through your pregnancy. In all honesty, the simpler maternity fashions are far more stylish than the overpriced or the ones attempting to recreate a runway trend. On the other hand, don’t think that just because you’re dressing for two, you have to dress in a manner that is outside your normal look. One can still be simple, chic, funky, artsy, bohemian, a rocker, an artist, a lady, a prep and be pregnant. If you didn’t live in cotton button-downs and capris before the baby, you don’t have to succumb to them now. If you didn’t like black before you were expecting, you aren’t doomed to wear it for the next few months.

Yes, the maternity stores will be chock full of overpriced designer jeans, crazy prints, sexy tops, and more pastel striped cotton tunics than you can shake a stick at. If these are within your sense of style and budget, go for them. However most of us are the type who want simple versatile pieces, coordinating colors, and items that won’t itch, bind or put us into debt.

It’s okay to have just two pairs of pants, one or two dresses and a few tops. So what if you wear the same black pants three times in one week – if they are clean and flatter, it’s totally okay. You are not entering a fashion contest, you are pregnant! Look for simple pieces that are less memorable so they can be re-worn often. Choose fabrics that are easier to care for – that cotton top is adorable, but do you want to have to iron it before each wearing? Same goes for dry cleaning – the more you can clean in your home or laundry room, the more often you can wear the garments, the less clothing you actually need in your wardrobe.

Choose a palette and stick to it. If you keep a wardrobe of browns, creams, reds and purples your collection will go farther. Blacks, grays and jewel tones like purples and greens also work nicely together. Whites and khakis can go with most any neutral or bright. Having a palette of 4-5 colors will make it easier when shopping, easier when making an outfit each day, easier when purchasing shoes and accessories. A simple color palette is also a great way to make cheaper items look more elegant. Stick with mostly solids, few pieces that fit well and wash well, and bring out your personality in accessories.

You may also wish to visit:
Maternity Fashion Review - Liz Lange for Target Tankini
Wardrobe Oxygen and Maternity Fashion
Wardrobe Staples for the Mom-to-Be
Before and After Maternity Clothing

14 comments:

  1. Allie: Congratulations on your pregnancy, and thank you for the information for all mothers-to-be.

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  2. I love your blog! Thanks so much for the tips--I wanted to say too that I had good luck finding some great maternity clothes at consignment stores.

    Congratulations!

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  3. Allie, great post as usual. I have two requests for future "mom" type style articles (that I would do myself if I were still blogging much, but you would do them better!) One is nursing bras (did you know that department stores may not display them and you have to ask the salesperson to bring them out?) I didn't know this before baby #1 and #2 -- I bought nursing bras from Target, but this pregnancy I will call the department stores ahead to see what they have and how it works...

    Two, I would love to see a blog article or maybe even a reader participation show-and-tell on easy mom haircuts.

    Thanks,
    Karen

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  4. Oh, one more suggestion for maternity dressing -- USE YOUR ACCESSORIES! When the maternity clothes feel boring, jewelry, scarves, shoes, bags, etc. help keep it fresh. Allie, you seem to be a natural at this, but it's worth a reminder to those of us who forget to complete our looks once our bodies are covered.

    Plus, it's nice to shop for new things that won't all expire at the end of pregnancy!

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  5. So many awesome tips!!! I'm cheating on the bra thing for a while and using bra extenders. I know they aren't the best, but I can't afford to buy bras everytime I grow a size, so I'm trying to hold out till the last minute so I can get some good nursing bras.

    Don't buy maternity is a great tip - my 'yoga pants' are actually knee-length drawstring pajama pants from target. They're lighter than yoga pants, which helps me because I'm ALWAYS hot, and the drawstring allows them to grow with me. I've also gotted some of those bubble type shirts that are popular now, where they have the elastic at the bottom. They're roomy enough to fit my belly for a while, but they're also stylish and not 'too roomy'.

    I also cheated by using a rubber band to hold up my pants, rather than buying a belly band. You just hook it around the button, loop through the buttonhole, and hook it back around the button.

    The one time I went to a maternity boutique, I found out they did NO returns at all. I don't particularly want to try things on everytime, so I want the option of returning it (without being forced to use store credit). I can understand the logic behind it, but I'll certainly look elsewhere because of it.

    You're so smart Allie! :) I may link back to this from my blog soon if that's ok.

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  6. I forgot about the rubber band technique! Used that this weekend with a pair of denim shorts! :)

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  7. astarte's student8/18/08, 5:58 PM

    Good lord....gotted? Pregnancy brain strikes again! Maybe it's naptime. ;P

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  8. Allie, I like it when you write these kinds of posts. As much as I love fashion as fantasy, reading something like this keeps me grounded. Thansk for that. ;)

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  9. If you don't want to slice up your camis as a modesty layer, the belly band works just as well as a boob tube. I'm still using my belly bands under wrap dresses.

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  10. Allie-

    What a great blog! Quick question: I'm short, thin, and busty, so nearly all my clothes have a tailored fit. I'm TTC, and I'm wondering if I should pick up a few of the blouse-y or trapeze cut tops so that if I am expecting, I can cover it for a bit before I have to tell everyone (I teach high school). I never wear clothes cut that way, but did you find that those blouses give you an in-between for when you aren't big enough for maternity yet? And do you recommend the "style shift" as a just in case? I always wear a jacket or cardigan over my blouse to keep the girls covered, too, if that makes a difference....

    Thanks!

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  11. I would probably hold off Jennifer. Every woman grows differently and even different with each pregnancy. I survived over three months without even having to use a Belly band or rubber band while I went to a party and saw a woman who was 8 weeks and already in full-blown maternity clothes and showing.

    My bust grew almost a cup size but has seemed to stop while other women seem to grow larger and larger each month. A friend of mine hardly grew at all - not even a half a cup size (she started off as a D and a size 6). She also only purchased about four items not in her regular size - only one maternity and got by with her regular clothing.

    I am still wearing a lot of my regular clothing - tees show off the bump, shift dresses still work, skirts with some stretch still fit if higher on the belly, pants work with a belly band, a cami under wrap dresses and tops give enough coverage for my now DD breats... so I wouldn't really invest in much because you have no clue when you'll start to grow/show and to what extent. If you can find a sale Belly band, that may be your best first purchase. :) Good luck with TTC!!!

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  12. I've found I am relying on thrift stores and the generosity of my friends and mother! I don't fit things I have tried in normal clothing (ie: size 10 doesn't fit my bump or my boobs, size 12 swamps my arms and thighs), but maternity clothing is too big.

    My boobs got enormous - up a cup size three weeks after conception and now are up 3 sizes to DD and still growing! And I'm only half way through!

    This post has given me a lot of tips though - after I had given up on being stylish while pregnant, now I see it is possible!

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  13. Love this! Great article, love your blog!

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  14. Love this! Great article, love your blog!

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