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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.