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maternity-dressing rules reexamined

Author Tory Hoen.

Six Maternity-Dressing Rules, Reexamined

Let go of old assumptions to make dressing for pregnancy simpler—and a lot more fun.

By Tory Hoen

Before I experienced pregnancy, I had all kinds of misconceptions about what it must be like to get dressed with a rapidly growing human inside your body. Instagram ads will have us believe it’s a nine-month parade of off-the-shoulder floral dresses that perfectly skim your bump as you twirl with glee. And Rihanna convinced me that going bare-midriffed would be a viable option. But what if it’s below freezing where you live? Or you have to follow a corporate dress code? Or—most devastating of all—you realize you’re not Rihanna?

There is hope. Now that I’m in the thick of my third trimester, I’ve learned that maternity dressing is both easier and more annoying than I expected. As with dressing in general, it’s important to take into account factors like your body type, lifestyle, aesthetic preferences, climate, and season. But as long as you remember the cardinal rule—i.e. you call the shots—it is definitely navigable. Below, we unpack six rules and assumptions, and suggest a simpler path forward.

Old rule: You need a full “maternity wardrobe” ASAP. 

Better idea: First, shop your closet or simply size up.

Every pregnancy is different, and when/how you start to dress for your changing shape varies from woman to woman. But the idea that you should be in head-to-toe maternity-wear for nine months is likely overkill. For the first five months of my pregnancy, I wore pieces I already owned that were loosely cut (like the Corrie dress), super-stretchy (like the Harrington legging), or oversized (like the Theo pullover), and I’m not alone. “I expected it to be easy to find maternity dresses, but I’m little, and a lot of maternity clothes don’t fit me well,” says Michelle G., who oversees analytics at a nonprofit tech company in Manhattan. “So far, sticking with non-maternity clothes in a size or two larger than my normal size has worked better for my body shape.”

mmlafleur pregnancy outfits

Old rule: If you’re strategic, you can get by without any maternity-wear.

Better idea: A few key pieces go a long way.

While some women are quick to buy maternity-wear, there are also those who are determined to get through pregnancy without buying anything that accommodates a bump. I thought I might be one of these people, but since entering my third trimester, I have been living in a few key maternity pieces from Storq, which I layer with roomy pieces from my normal wardrobe. “You don’t need to spend a ton of money on maternity-wear, but investing in some nice pieces that will take you through your third trimester and postpartum period will have a big impact on your comfort level,” says Renee C., a VP in affordable housing finance.

mmlafleur maternity

Old rule: Pregnancy is temporary, so it’s okay to compromise on quality.

Better idea: Streamline your wardrobe, but invest in comfort.

If there’s ever a time to maximize comfort and quality, it’s while you’re growing a human. While it might be tempting to stock up on flimsy fast-fashion pieces that will be easy to discard, it’s savvier to buy a few great pieces that can withstand heavy rotation. Look for breathable, natural fabrics that won’t cling or pucker; and then accessorize to keep them feeling fresh while you wear them on repeat. “When I was pregnant with my twins, I needed extra support so I wouldn’t crumble under the weight,” says Lizzie B., a Chicago-based CMO in fintech. “I didn’t want to feel like a sausage, but a bit of compression helped a lot. Once I found the right tights and yoga pants, I wore them non-stop, and they were easy to layer.” Up the luxury factory by pairing your go-to basics with comfy boots and a great coat that will last well beyond your fourth trimester.

mmlafleur toggle coat

Old rule: Beware of too much pattern—it’s overwhelming.

Better idea: Silence the skeptics by having fun with print. 

Having a stable of versatile neutrals is never a bad idea, but there’s no reason you can’t incorporate a little flamboyance into your look. A statement sweater or a flowy top are great places to start. “I did not shy away from stripes while I was pregnant,” says Emily M., a Boston-based marketer in ed-tech. “I had this one long, striped tank dress that had the perfect amount of stretch. It somehow looked good without a bump but also with one. It was a magic dress.” The right pattern can both highlight your shape and create a smoothing effect.

mmlafleur maternity wear

Old rule: “Keep things loose and flowy” and/or “bodycon is best.”

Better idea: Comfort comes in all silhouettes.

People have strong opinions about the extent to which they want to flaunt their bumps. And you know what? Great! There’s no wrong way to conceal or emphasize your pregnancy, as long as you feel comfortable and empowered in your clothes. “I was surprised to find that I loved wearing form-fitting pieces during my pregnancies. I thought it would be a lot of muumuus and flowy dresses, but I went hard in the other direction,” says Annie S., a Brooklynite who works in justice tech. “I felt sexy in long body-con dresses that accentuated my curves.” For others, it’s all about floaty frocks that feel like nightgowns. You do you.

maternity-dressing rules reexamined

Old rule: Strive to stay true to your pre-pregnancy style.

Better idea: Pregnancy is a brave new world. Why not experiment?

It’s understandable that with all the changes that pregnancy brings, many women want to keep their look consistent. But this can also be a great time to mix things up. I’ve leaned into more whimsical styles, and extreme comfort is now a non-negotiable. I was always a proponent of heels at work (and was willing to withstand a little pain), but now I’ve embraced flats like never before. And I’ve always loved the look of an oversized sweater (usually pilfered from the closet of a male friend), but now I feel justified splurging on the heavenly Lea sweater. After all, I’m dressing for two.

mmlafleur maternity-dressing

Written By

Tory Hoen

Tory Hoen is the author of the novel The Arc. She spent five years as the Creative Director of Brand at M.M.LaFleur (where she founded The M Dash!) and has written for New York Magazine, Vogue Fortune, Bon Appétit, and Condé Nast Traveler.

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