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Maternity Clothes: Yea or Nay?

Kate Middleton represents a growing set of pregnant women choosing to dress their bumps in non-maternity wear.

By
with contributions from Lorelei Marfil
Kate Middleton

April 29: in a Tara Jamon coat and bespoke dress.

Photo By David Parker/PA Wire/Press Association Images

Kate Middleton

April 26: in a Topshop (maternity!) dress and Ralph Lauren jacket.

Photo By Anwar Hussein/EMPICS Entertainment

Kate Middleton

April 24: in Emilia Wickstead.

Photo By Tim P. Whitby/PA Wire/Press Association Images

The Duchess of Cambridge, whose baby is due in mid-July, has worn exactly one maternity outfit in public since her pregnancy was announced in December. The look: a black-and-white polka-dot dress from Topshop’s maternity line, which she paired with a black Ralph Lauren jacket (non-maternity) for a visit to Warner Bros. Studios outside London. (She repeated the same outfit this past weekend, to a private wedding in Oxfordshire, England.) Otherwise, Kate Middleton has been recycling bits of her wardrobe and wearing non-maternity designs from labels including Erdem, Mulberry and Tara Jarmon.


Meanwhile, celebrities ranging from Jessica Alba and Halle Berry to Beyoncé and Reese Witherspoon have taken a similar tack, tweaking their wardrobes to accommodate their changing figures or buying the sort of clothes they would have opted for, pre-bump.


Few department and specialty stores offer maternity clothing anymore, because even those women who are not living in palaces — or penthouses — are shopping their closets, adapting their existing wardrobes and choosing to spend their money on pieces that will last long after they have a baby.

 

RELATED STORY: Designers Sketch Maternitywear for Kate >>

“We do not carry maternitywear anymore at Bloomingdale’s, but we have a young customer base — mothers who shop here regularly for maternity clothes,” said Stephanie Solomon, the store’s fashion director. “Emily Gerne, our manager of business development, has never once bought maternitywear. She is on her second child, and is currently in her eighth month of pregnancy,” she said.

According to Solomon, Gerne’s bump solutions include Diane von Furstenberg silk jersey wrap dresses (one size bigger than usual), J Brand leggings (worn below the waist) and layers of Splendid T-shirts (they have a long torso). Not to mention, Solomon added, “a great blazer...and borrowing your husband’s jeans and rolling up the hem.”

Harrods, meanwhile, is catering to the fashionable pregnant shopper in an alternative way. It has two maternitywear concessions — Blossom Mother & Child and 9 London by Emily Evans — on its fourth floor near the babywear and nursery departments. Marigay McKee, Harrods’ chief merchant, described Blossom Mother & Child’s offering as a “maternity edit,” i.e., a mix of versatile looks from non-maternity brands, including M Missoni, See by Chloé and Issa, alongside specialist maternity labels including Paulina and Attesa. The boutique also features a denim bar where designer labels such as J Brand, Seven For All Mankind and AG Jeans are customized with the trademark Blossom belly band at the waist. Harrods’ other boutique, 9 London, carries maternitywear exclusively, yet with creative solutions such as one-off vintage pieces and the “Bump in a Box” set by Jenny Rose, which contains a stretch capsule of four must-have items. McKee said both boutiques have seen double-digit growth compared with last year.

Georgina Chapman, designer and co-founder of Marchesa, had her second child in April. She said that, except for jeans, she didn’t buy any maternity clothes for either of her pregnancies. “I tried to wear as many pieces from my current wardrobe as possible. Of course, I did make some new purchases, but they were all pieces that I could continue wearing post-pregnancy,” said the designer. “While I was at the office, I opted for ballet flats and sneakers, but for evening events I finished my look off with a great heel. I think it’s important to stay true to your personal style, even while your body is changing.”

The London-based ready-to-wear and bespoke designer Emilia Wickstead, whose clients include the Duchess of Cambridge and Britain’s First Lady Samantha Cameron, gave birth to her first child in December. Rather than maternity clothes, she said she “used existing styles out of my own collection, things I would have normally worn belted I wore loose.”

Wickstead noted that she’s no different from her customers. “I think modern women want quality, investment pieces that they can wear again and again.” She added that her alterations for mothers-to-be are minimal — she’ll raise a waistline and level a hem to accommodate a growing belly, if needed. “It’s pretty straightforward,” she said.

Kate Middleton

April 23: In Erdem.

Photo By Dave Thompson/PA Wire/Press Association Images

Kate Middleton

April 21: in Mulberry.

Photo By Olivia Harris/PA Wire/Press Association Images

Chapman takes a similar approach at Marchesa. “Some of our customers just buy a size or two up, and then alter the gown to fit in other areas of their body,” she explained. “Other women like to have pieces more custom-made for their bodies while pregnant, especially if it’s an evening gown for an important occasion and you want to look and feel your best.”

 


Dr. Randi Hutter Epstein, author of “Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank,” said styles today reflect pregnancy as being a “normal” part of a woman’s life. “You can go on being yourself, which includes maintaining your fashion sense — whatever it is — while you have your baby,” said Epstein. “It doesn’t mean striving to fit into skinny jeans for six months, but maintaining your identity. As we all know, fashion is a way to express your identity and sense of self.”


Epstein went on to compare and contrast the “I’m pregnant” style of Princess Diana in the Eighties to Middleton’s sleek and youthful look today. “Diana was going through that sort of cutesy stage, whereas Kate is obviously not hiding her pregnancy from the entire planet, but is definitely not trying to make [a big deal out of it].”


Marian Gloria, head buyer at Olive & Bette’s, which has four shops in Manhattan, said Middleton’s attitude is common among the stores’ clientele. “What we are hearing is that a lot of women do not want maternity clothes,” she said, adding that pregnant shoppers at Olive & Bette’s will often veer toward maxidresses, Joie silk blouses and Splendid tanks. “They still want to look like themselves.”


Style-conscious Londoners take a similar approach. Jane Monnington Boddy, senior director of trend forecasting at Stylesight.com, had her second child six months ago. She bought maternity jeans and four dresses from Cos, H&M’s sister company. “The maternitywear offer out there was not fashion-aware, and was very frumpy and disappointing. I think Asos [Maternity] had the best offer at that [mass] price point. I’m demanding when it comes to fashion; maybe if you’re less demanding you have an easier time,” Boddy said.


Aesthetics aside, there’s a host of other reasons why some fashion lovers are shunning maternitywear, including new attitudes to exercise and fitness; cost; concerns about waste, and advances in fabric technology. Jeans are stretchier than ever before, and ever-versatile knitwear is already a staple in many women’s wardrobes.


Epstein points out that no one eats “for two” anymore: “People are concerned, especially here in America, about things that are going to make your kid more likely to have allergies or increase their risk. It’s a healthy diet. In the past, doctors were worried about the stress of work, the stress of exercise and any extra energy they thought should go to the baby. And now we know exercise is fine during pregnancy.”


Cost — even when one has a healthy disposable income — is also a consideration. Take it from fashion stylist Elizabeth Saltzman, who frequently works with Gwyneth Paltrow and is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair. “Given the choice between buying a jacket from Tom Ford, Lanvin, Chanel — or insert designer label of your choice here — that you will have for life, and spending a couple of thousand dollars on maternity clothes that you will most likely want to burn when you are done with them?” she asked. Women, Saltzman said, are clearly opting for the former.

 

However, a market does remain for maternitywear — especially at the mass end — with brands rooted in fast fashion, such as Topshop and Asos, grabbing much of the attention with their maternity collections. Hayley Moore, maternity buyer at Asos, said the value of the average shopping basket for an Asos maternity customer is higher — 71.50 pounds, or $110 — than that of the regular customer, who spends 57 pounds, or $88.  


Moore added that the first thing Asos’ maternity customers (who are mainly in their late 20s and early 30s) buy is jeans, although traditional officewear makes up half of the firm’s overall maternity business. “We do woven dresses, not stretchy ones, that look smart in an office environment, as well as occasion wear,” Moore said. “We have a dedicated garment technologist working on the collection. The clothes have inside seams, and are adjustable so you can wear them after your pregnancy, too.”


Social media, Moore noted, has given Asos Maternity a boost as well. Most recently, Rochelle Humes, from the British-Irish girl group the Saturdays, was snapped walking out of the Knightsbridge restaurant Zuma in a black Asos maternity dress with a snazzy white collar.


Could moves like that of Humes, along with a little help from the Duchess of Cambridge, make maternitywear fashionable again? All it takes is baby steps.