Real-Life Postpartum Fashion Advice

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real-life postpartum fashion advice by a personal stylist and new mom. Navigating a new baby, a new body, on a budget.

There are women who get their pre-pregnancy body back in six weeks. Others who get it back in six months. There are women who realize their shape will never be the same, but still come to terms with their new figure quickly – nine months in, nine months out and back in some fab jeans and heels.

And then there are the rest of us. And I think the rest of us are the majority. The silent majority.

My daughter is almost two years old, and I still freak out sometimes when catching my nude reflection in the full length mirror in my bedroom. Who IS this woman?

Maybe you take in your reflection, and you realize that this new body is still beautiful – possibly more so. You take pride in your strength, your ability to create life. Those breasts are now more than a way to attract a date – they are a way to feed your child. Your stretch marks and sagging skin are battle scars, reminders of the amazing triumphant act you did.

And then you enter a mall, or get a package in the mail from your favorite online retailer. You try on the garments, and begin (or increase) self-loathing. Nothing fits, everything is ugly, YOU are ugly.

You’re not ugly, you’re not deformed, it’s just that today’s fashion isn’t geared towards the constantly changing body of the postpartum woman.

Real-Life Postpartum Fashion Advice

Instead of beating yourself up in the fitting room, take this opportunity in life to really build a uniform, a suit of armor. You’re not the person you were pre-pregnancy, inside or out. Accept that, and build a very simple uniform that will get you through this time until you become good friends with the New You – the woman with a child, with a changed lifestyle, new priorities, and new hips.

These items aren’t easy to find, but they ARE out there. Some suggestions:

The first year of Emerson’s life was incredibly difficult for my ego, my confidence, my blogger self. It was hard enough adjusting to being a new mother, I had to re-learn my skills at my full-time job, and still felt that I had to be some sort of style expert here. The way I got through was by making my wardrobe so incredibly simplistic that it really became a uniform. When I found a silhouette, fabric, or brand that worked, I purchased multiples. I didn’t try to put my very round peg into a square pair of trousers, I found pieces that were soft, comfortable, wearable, yet had polish.

  • Ponte knit trousers. I found some at Old Navy – they had a standard style with pockets and zip fly, but the fabric was so stretchy, it worked with my body. Ponte knit is thicker than your standard yoga pant, so not only did it make the trousers work-appropriate, they also did a far better job of hiding the lumps and bumps.  I have also found great ponte pants from NYDJ, LOFT, and even at Target. For plus size ponte pants I highly recommend Universal Standard; they have a great resale value so if your size changes you can recoup some of the cost.
  • Wrap dresses. I found a jersey wrap dress in Talbots that had a fullish skirt and blouson sleeves and bought it in every color I could find. I had matte jersey wrap dresses from Talbots, Old Navy, Max Studio, Ann Taylor, and Maggy London. When jeans and pants failed me, dresses made me look polished, feminine, and curvy, yet were comfortable. I paired with tights and a wide-heeled Mary Janeir?t=whaevewomneei 20&l=btl&camp=213689&creative=392969&o=1&a=B003XXEHGY in winter, and sandals in summer. The wrap styling whittles and hides the waist, flatters the bust (and is great for nursing moms) and the skirt covers the lower belly, rear, and thighs nicely.
  • Lightweight drapey cardigans. These types of cardigans are popular at a range of retailers and pricepoints. To hide the belly, pull it together at the center and wear a proper belt over it or even consider cinching with a brooch. If you choose a belt, it does NOT have to be tight, but a leather or wide stretchy belt will give a bit of definition not found by a self-belt. Buy one in a fantastic color, have a contrast color belt, and this will make your simple nursing tank and knit pants or leggings look chic.
  • Tall boots. Again, this is something that is easy to find at most any retailer. Tall boots will make leggings or skinny jeans look chic, and will dress up the most simple pieces. Get a low heel so they are comfortable. If you fear buying boots now because you believe your legs will slim down, know that a cobbler can easily narrow the boot shaft when you do get to your goal size.
  • Color! It’s so easy to try to hide in black and gray, but this is the best way to look even more uncomfortable in this constantly changing body. Cobalt blue, royal purple, rich berry, deep teal, cherry red… whatever the color when you wear it people will notice it first, not your figure. Not only that, when you look in the mirror and see that great shade of candy pink or pumpkin, you will feel happier (and your skin will glow more!)
  • Great bras. Many nursing bras are created for convenience, not for good support and definition. Take the time to find a couple that can multi-task. I found Anita brair?t=whaevewomneei 20&l=btl&camp=213689&creative=392969&o=1&a=B0011ZX6IQs (which I found at Nordstrom and on eBay) to be supportive, pretty, and still easy to use when nursing. If you aren’t nursing, you still need to be fitted for your new size. Even if you know your size will change, invest in two bras for this time being. When your breasts are supported, separated, and happy, you will look slimmer and stand taller.
  • Control garments. I am not talking high-powered girdles, but I know I felt a little bit more… me with a bit of spandex under my attire. My Spanx Higher Power shorts were great because I didn’t feel constricted, but had a smoother line under all my clothes. I was surprisingly more comfortable in a light control garment than without because it seemed to put my body back in place those couple of weeks after childbirth where everything seems to be loose and weird inside your body.

Keep your wardrobe simple and small so that when you wake each day, you aren’t overwhelmed by options. Two pairs of pants, two pairs of jeans, three dresses, two cardigans, three sweaters or tops, one pair of shoes that work with pants and jeans, another pair that works with dresses, a pair of boots that works with all. Who CARES if you wear the same pants twice in one week, or you end up wearing the same black wrap dress every Tuesday? You have better things to think about right now.

Focus on quality so these clothes can handle multiple washings and wears. Looks for items that can be laundered at home, carry a Tide to Go pen with you at all times, and utilize accessories like pashminas, oblong scarves, multiple necklaces (I am a fan of pearls – a couple strands in different sizes can give instant glamour) and fun earrings to take attention from your body and simple pieces and add glam and style to your uniform.

Don’t try to adopt the newest trends, don’t try to be the fiercest mama in town. Keep it simple, keep it quality, keep it comfortable, yet keep it well-fitting and having some style. These pieces will be your suit of armor – your way of meeting up with old friends and not feeling like a schlep, to attend that first board meeting after maternity leave, to feel more you when leaving the house.

Stop comparing your speed in weight loss and body firming to the celebrities (or even the other women in your Mommy and Me group). Each woman is different. And even the woman who fit back into her designer jeans a month after childbirth may be pinching and grimacing in the mirror each morning. This is a process. Take this time as a forced spiritual journey to finding yourself. Instead of an ashram in India or a spa in Arizona, you are finding your center on the subway, at the grocery store, in your office.

postpartum fashion shopping tips advicel

This period of life does not have to be spent in sweats, nor does it have to be spent with a muffin top and a bad sense of self. Be kind to yourself, keep things simple, and work on you and your family. Through this process, you will come out to be a stronger, deeper, more wonderful woman. Clothing shouldn’t make you feel bad about yourself, clothing shouldn’t stress you out. Clothing should be the armor to get through this period. And there is no proper length of this period – only you know what is best and when you are ready to start properly outfitting your New You.

A woman with curly hair wearing a plaid blazer holds a green fur coat over her shoulder on a city street.

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    1. Oh yay! And best to you mama, I remember that period. I still wore my Old Navy maternity pants with lots of soft knits that had surplice/wrap/rouching and wrap dresses. Nothing that would cling, nothing that would scratch, and back then I didn’t want a ton of notice so I stuck to more subtle colors and wore necklaces and scarves to draw attention from my body. Big hugs to you!!!

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your story and proving that you can’t judge a book (or a new mom) by its cover (or dress size)!  I know that first year is so hard for any woman, the change to the life, the new little life you are responsible for, and then the body on top of it.  It’s great to have clothes to help boost our confidence and give us strength through tough and emotional times!

  2. Things are good now four years later and amazingly I’m thinner still with the best body I’ve ever had (thanks physiotherapists!)
    I think the important thing  is to accept the body you have and what it can do (for me, that’s walk again!) and I think it’s great we get to choose how to dress in a way that makes you feel physically and emotionally comfortable. There is so much you can do to make yourself look good in clothes.  Thank goodness we live in a society where we don’t have to go naked!

  3. had complications so “failed to thrive” and me because I had postnatal psychosis and was unable to weight bear (injury from delievery).  Nicole Ritchies legs didn’t seem so desirable when I was unable to stand. Now I look at postnatal women with “perfect figures” and wonder where is the excess weight?  Have you had a rough time?  To me, a woman carrying more weight after birth than she did pre-pregnancy is a sign of good healthy and without good health,it’s hard to look good.

  4. To those above, appearances aren’t always what they seem.  I weighed four kilos lighter several days post birth than I was when I conceived. Apart from excess stomach skin, I looked “great” – think Dolly Parton –  FF cup boobs yet hip bones showing.  My legs looked like Nicole Ritchies.  Before you hate me, let me add that my child and I spent three and a half months in hospitals.  My child because they 

  5. Great post.

    On a different note – for some of the soon-to-be mums out there – don’t be too scared about changes to your body. I got quite fit before having my baby and thought that pregnancy and childbirth would DECIMATE my body… I was pleasantly surprised to find that I still recognise myself and my body is still pretty similar to what it was before baby. Tummy a little flabbier, boobs a bit droopier – but definitely worth it to end up with a gorgeous baby.

    Clothes-wise, one of the things I am frustrated with is accessorizing. I don’t have my ears pierced and am not one for rings or bracelets, but pre-baby most days I wore a long necklace to add interest to my outfit. Necklaces and babies don’t mix so what to do???

  6. I’m going to weigh in slightly differently here. You don’t need to adopt ALL the newest trends, but it is nice to have something new and current in your present size.

    It’s easy to end up in the dumps 6-9 months on when the weight that falls off has quit falling off and what’s left is just plain old fat.

    Even if you are making progress on losing that last 15 pounds it’s nice to have something fresh and good-looking to wear.

  7. Thank you, this post is very timely for me. I’ll be a first time mom by the end of the month and this should help me plan my post-pregnancy wardrobe.

  8. What a great post. I’ll chime in and say consider necklines that kids can pull on without exposing your entire chestal region.

  9. My husband calls the stretch marks “racing stripes.” I love that phrase–very empowering. Thanks for the great post. We are all beautiful no matter our size or shape, but it does take some getting used to our post-baby bodies.

  10. Oh, yet another wonderful post – thank you! 13 months after having my son I also have those moments of looking in the mirror and thinking what in the hell happened? Although I’m thinner than before my pregnancy (severe anemia after giving birth can be a quick weight-loss tool), my figure is so, so different and it’s frustrating when favorite outfits from before fit in theory, but look like crap. I’m learning to adapt and dress differently for this new me. And at the end of the day, when my boy gives me a cuddle I think, muffin top be damned, he’s what I wanted.

  11. I smiled at the part about one’s body changing with pregnancy because I have a friend who is Gwyneth Paltrow thin (same body build too) and she got really offended at a party when a rude woman sarcastically remarked that it must be hard being her and instantly losing weight after having a baby. My friend is pretty soft spoken but could not hold back her irritation with this uncouth woman. She said, “You don’t know my body and so you have no place to comment about it. As for my build, my whole family has this shape and is naturally slender. However, I DO NOT have the same body I had before children, nor do I expect my body to go back to that place. I know what I look like when I take my clothes off at night… and that is MY business!”
    Needless to say, I was proud of her for speaking up. We all have our bodies to contend with…

  12. You are great! I remember your blogging struggle after you gave birth and I always felt bad that you felt this pressure to be an ‘expert’ when in reality, your vulnerability and your meandering through your journey was really incredible and spoke to ‘real’ women more than any slick shiny expert stance. Does that make sense?
    I don’t have kids but I do have a body I struggle with and your blog has always offered me ideas of how to look more polished and put together.

  13. What a great, timely post for me. Even though Baby Boy is 14 months old, I’m finding myself revisiting these themes again and again.

    My bit to add – remember that size does not define you. Don’t get hung up on the numbers, be it bra size or shoe size. As my mom told me after a particularly demoralizing shopping trip, “Your boobs aren’t any bigger than they were this morning, are they? But I’ll bet they ARE more comfortable!”

  14. Yay Allie, another fantastic post! My son is almost four and I have yet to get back into my pre-baby clothes. It’s hard on the ego, but you’re right, it’s a life journey. Thank you!

  15. Seriously, I love you. I really needed to read this right now, because like you I struggled for a year postpartum to get some shape back. I never got back to my pre-pregnancy weight, which wasn’t all that small to begin with. Now at 14 weeks pregnant I am back to feeling so bad about myself and the way I look. I keep trying to remind myself that my body may not be stick thin, but I can carry a 24 pound toddler around with one arm and a week’s worth of groceries with the other. I am strong, and that counts for something. The best thing I did for myself a couple weeks ago was to buy a few well-fitting maternity pants. I feel so much better about myself since I did that. BTW, I think you always look great and pulled together. I look forward to seeing what outfit you’ll pull together every day.

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