Dressing a pregnant body takes ‘what am I going to wear??’ to a whole new level, Emma Clifton discovers as she battles her way through maternity clothing shopping.
Now that I’m pregnant I am discovering a lot of ***hidden pregnancy secrets*** along the way that nobody ever mentioned. I mean, I could write an entire thesis on the farts alone but it’s probably for the best that I don’t. But one of the biggest revelations for me is that maternity clothing is… kind of terrible?
When I started googling ‘maternity clothing’ or – to be specific – ‘midsize maternity clothing’, so that I wasn’t just being fed thin people with bumps by the algorithm, I found that the consistent style advice was ‘don’t buy maternity clothes, just buy larger sizes of normal clothing.’ After descending into months’ worth of online browsing, I can see why.
Back in the Amy Poehler/Maya Rudolph/Tina Fey years of Saturday Night Live, the skit ‘Mom Jeans’ played perfectly into the stereotyping of mum clothing, with the tagline: ‘Give her something that says: I’m not a woman anymore, I’m a mom!’ And it is true that never did I find the whole virgin/whore dichotomy more obviously displayed than when I was looking at maternity dresses, where so many of the options were either ‘wholesome milkmaid’ in a winsome smock dress or ‘Babies come from SEX!’ skin-tight bodycon.
Also, pregnancy books will talk you through – in brutal, microscopic detail – all the stages your body will experience, but so far none of them have mentioned the ‘should I get maternity overalls?’ stage, which seems to affect more pregnant people than you might think. These nine months really do a number on your own sense of style.
This sartorial journey has made it very clear to me why so many pregnant people end up in just leggings and baggy t-shirts (me, I am that person), because the alternative feels like trying on a new personality – and you’re already doing that, because you’re now a parent-to-be who has to learn about things like colostrum!
The Five Personalities Of Maternity Clothing
Many a think piece has already been written how modern parenthood is becoming more and more beige, both in good ways – beige is genderless – and in bad ways – beige can also be deeply dull. So it’s little wonder that this trend has extended to maternity wear, where chic parents-to-be dress entirely in neutral colours. Maybe it’s the Coastal Grandmother thing, maybe it’s the last-gasp of being able to wear white before a baby descends to mess up your aesthetic, I don’t know. Maybe it’s trying to feel more elegant at a time when your body has never felt less so.
But here’s what I can’t understand: the stains. I know it’s not ground-breaking to discuss the cursed reality that white clothing attracts stains more easily but when you are pregnant, your body is not only no longer what it used to be, but it’s also no longer WHERE it used to be. Case in point: I found an entire chunk of avocado sitting on the knot of my tied linen shirt two hours after I had last eaten, because my stomach now sits out several inches more than it used to and acts like a shelf. You simply cannot get away with that in a neutral, there’s just no camouflage to work with.
Remember when bandage dresses were EVERYWHERE circa 2007 but then people got, I don’t know, endless thrush from two layers of Spanx and gave them up? Well, that trend never died in maternity wear because bodycon is IN. If you delve too deeply into this, it gets uncomfortable pretty quick – is it because pregnancy is the only time when it’s socially acceptable to show-off a non-flat tummy? Is it because bodycon makes it clear that it’s A BABY (good!) and not a stomach roll (bad!)
All I know is that the description of all these dresses read like photo captions from the Daily Mail – ‘Flaunt your bump’, ‘accentuate new curves’, ‘figure on full display’ – and that’s a type of language that always gets my hackles up. Still, the one thing that bodycon has going for it is generally it’s made from a stretchy type of material and stretch is your mother, guru and best friend as you learn that your ‘morning bump’ and ‘evening bump’ are in fact worlds apart.
It got to the point when I was scrolling through maternity clothing websites when I couldn’t prevent myself from hissing ‘f—king gingham’ under my breath. The twee-ification of women’s clothing in the last couple of years can be partly traced back to the birth of the ‘nap dress’ phenomenon, which is a particular dress from US brand Hill House Home.
A nap dress actually sounds like a perfect maternity outfit because you do feel like falling asleep every three minutes, but it was part of the birth of a cottage-core trend that the maternity industry has certainly run with, in that every second dress has a smock top/puffy sleeves/gingham/floral print.
The highlight of twee mum smock dresses is that the stretchy style gives you plenty of room for your growing baby bump/pregnancy gas, but the lowlight is that if you have any kind of bust whatsoever, the smock style makes your tits look like they are taking over the earth.
Before The White Lotus, the closest pop culture reference for what I assumed my pregnancy style would be was Homer Simpson in a muumuu, but thanks to Jennifer Coolidge and her many caftans, this look is gaining the traction it deserves.
Maybe I love this style so much because it’s the reverse bodycon – and as someone about to experience their third trimester as we hit peak summer, I’m keen to go as floaty as possible. Not to name drop Maya Rudolph et al again but during the press cycle for their Netflix film Wine Country, they mentioned that in they had nicknamed one of their real-life girls’ weekends away ‘Muumuu Nitpick’, ‘because everyone wore muumuus and vented about their lives the entire weekend.’ Such sartorial – and emotional – freedom should be available to all humans, not just the pregnant ones.
If you had told me earlier this year that I would at one stage I would have Googled ‘maternity bike pants’, I would have responded quite badly. But of all the things I have Googled during this pregnancy, that’s actually the least surprising.
It feels like we used to look at the photos of Princess Diana in the 90s in her bike shorts and oversize sweatshirts and laugh knowingly about the horror of 90s fashion. Well, now we know that Diana was again on the right side of history because it’s an outfit that would look just as fine now as it would then.
And this trend is the most useful continuation of the fact that we all took loungewear seriously when we stayed at home for months at a time during the pandemic, so long may the athleisure mum reign, frankly. (Plus, it’s the closest to the aforementioned leggings and t-shirts, which is what most of us are going to end up in anyway).