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Stretch maternity fashion beyond pregnancy

By Debra D. Bass
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

You never really know what to expect when you’re expecting, but it’s always a good idea not to stress out.

It’s good advice to practice breathing and staying in the moment rather than leaping months or years into the future. But living in the now for the woman whose waistline is rapidly expanding can be vexing.

“You think you’re going to get away with wearing most of your own clothes all the way through, but at the end you’re so huge you need real maternity clothing,” explained Stephanie Crouppen of St. Louis.

She’s about 15 weeks pregnant with her second child and just ordered a supply of maternity clothing online. She said her baby bump grew much more quickly the second time around.

“Your uterus has a memory,” Crouppen said. When she was pregnant a year and a half ago with her first child, Eloise Ruby, Crouppen said she attempted to supplement her wardrobe with items from Target and Old Navy. She kept everything because she expected to be pregnant again soon, but the fast-fashion pieces weren’t worth preserving. This time around, Crouppen, an executive working mom, said she wanted to be more fashionable, so she made more of an investment in her clothing.

And she expects to wear many of the items long after pregnancy.

Not strictly maternity

One of Crouppen’s favorite finds was her Isabella Oliver maternity wrap coat. It has a cape shape that flows over her pregnant belly and a belt that cinches it tight to show off her waistline later.

She purchased the popular maternity brand’s coat from an online shop in the United Kingdom. The shop has specially curated maternity-appropriate items. Not all of the items have a maternity label, but they are all belly-friendly.

It’s a trend in shops that not all of the maternity wear is strictly maternity, which means there are fewer bows on bellies and more style.

It seems that more and more women are opting for loose-fitting silhouettes. But the National Retail Federation, which keeps track of nearly all things retail, doesn’t track maternity spending, though that category would seem to affect quite a few shoppers. So we asked some pregnant ladies.

Isabella Oliver ( isabellaoliver.com) and ShopBop ( shopbop.com) were cited by several women, and it’s probably not a coincidence that they present items that can be worn before, during pregnancy and forever, according to the websites.

‘The duchess effect’

The assumption that “even pregnant women don’t want to wear maternity clothing” is no longer true. Look at the hoopla over the wardrobe choices of the famously pregnant Duchess Kate Middleton. Everything she was photographed in during pregnancy sold out of stores almost immediately. And because most of her choices weren’t actually maternity items, she wasn’t just inspiring pregnant women.

While attending a tour of the Warner Bros. film studio in Leavesden, England, with her husband and brother-in-law in April, Middleton wore a polka-dot Topshop dress with Ralph Lauren jacket.

Even though Middleton was six months pregnant, the frock was not maternity wear. The $76 dress caused a frenzy and was completely out of stock online and in stores within a few hours, according to news reports at the time. She wore the dress again a month later.

Many mothers-to-be took note of Middleton’s business smart maternity wear choices. A British newspaper reported that one high-end department store saw sales of “sophisticated dresses and smart styles in their maternity collections increase by more than 500 percent compared to this time last year and is attributing this to pregnant women wanting to emulate the Duchess’ well-documented elegant look.”

It was dubbed “the duchess effect.”

The same was likely observed in the states from the plethora of Hollywood stars gracing the red carpets while pregnant in recent years, including Natalie Portman, Halle Berry, Angelina Jolie, Victoria Beckham and Jessica Alba.

Sure, they are benefiting from custom garments for A-list occasions, but the women were photographed daily in clothing ranging from casual gym attire to garden party charity events. And none passed up an opportunity to flaunt her expanding shape, so most opted for form-fitting or tummy-grazing attire.

For everyday life

Sarah King of Webster Groves, Mo., eight months pregnant with her first child, said that she didn’t buy any maternity clothes, but she did opt for going a size up on some outfits.

The slim King, who owns and runs Blush Boutique, describes her style as boho street, so she’s used to wearing layers that drape and flow.

“I’ve been pretty fortunate, because I could use a lot of stuff that was already in my wardrobe,” King said. “But obviously I had to stop torturing myself and trying to stuff myself into skinny jeans.”

Now, she’s sticking to maxi dresses and leggings with tunics that she wears below her belly. She also had a few Free People pants with a smocked waist and wider leg that worked well into her pregnancy.

“Mentally you’re in the mind-set that you can’t wear normal clothes, but you’d be surprised at what can work,” King said.

She said it’s important for women not to feel defeated before they try things on.

Not everyone will be able to wear nonmaternity clothing for her entire pregnancy, but King said that shopping will feel like less of a burden or a waste if people take a breath and consider things that they'll wear beyond pregnancy.

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