Maternity clothes are reborn

Unstylish outfits for mothers-to-be are thing of the past

October 27, 2004|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

It used to be that once a woman found out she was pregnant, shortly thereafter she could throw all her stylish clothes in a bin marked, "Do not open for nine months."

The expectant mother was doomed to spend her days in Peter Pan collars, big back bows, tentlike jumpers or flowery stretch pants. Or just as bad, clothes with juvenile prints - ducks, teddy bears and such - dancing around the trim.

Maybe morning sickness was really brought on by the sorry state of maternity clothes. It was enough to drive a woman to celibacy.

But break out the cigars! Lately, clothes for moms-to-be have taken a happy turn for the better.

From high-end to low-end, designers and retailers seem to have discovered recently that a pregnant woman is still a woman, and wants to look and feel like one.

"Traditionally, people don't see pregnancy as a time that you want to look good, that you aren't as concerned about looking good as you are about being comfortable," said Dominique Johnson, a pediatrician whose twins are due in December. "And maybe toward the end that is true. But for a significant time in between, you actually do want to look good."

When Johnson, of Woodlawn, and her husband went looking for maternity clothes for this pregnancy - their second - she said she was pleasantly surprised.

"I think they've come a long way, even since the last time I was pregnant, which was two years ago. We ended up getting a lot of things that didn't look maternity," she said. "They looked more like what a regular person would wear."

Pin-striped pants and capri jeans. Ponchos. Tweed. Evening gowns. Bikinis. Any trendy or classy or fabulous thing a woman could buy pre-pregnancy is now available to her - at all points of the pricing spectrum - while she's with child.

Women's tastes run the gamut, obviously, but many pregnant women and new mothers seem to agree with Johnson. Today's maternity clothes do look more like "regular" clothes. They're less frumpy and more body-conscious. They're less girlie, and sometimes sexy. Contemporary maternity clothes show off the new-found curves, rather than try to hide them - celebrating the female form when a woman is possibly at her most female.


Women's clothing designer Liz Lange, who has recently begun selling her affordable, stylish maternity clothes at Target stores nationwide, said frustrated women inspired her to start making clothes for pregnant women in 1998.

"When I first got started, I was reacting to the fact that I was a woman in fashion, and friends were getting pregnant, and every single one of them had the same complaint: that they couldn't find a thing to wear," Lange said. "[The clothes] almost looked as if the people who were designing the clothing were confused and thought that the woman ... was actually transforming herself into a baby instead of having a baby.

"Since then, I've seen what I would describe as a revolution," Lange said. "The landscape has changed so dramatically."

Her line of classic, comfortable, casual clothes at Target have been selling so well - "beyond my wildest dreams," she said - that this fall, Lange became the first woman to show maternity clothes at the runway shows in New York's famous Bryant Park - with pregnant models.

Big-bellied blondes strutting down the catwalk? This would have been unheard of years ago.

Celebrities show off

Today, celebrities show off their voluptuous pregnant bodies, preening for the red-carpet cameras like, "What's the big deal?"

Round and glowing stars have been all over the fashion magazines in recent years, looking just as fabulous as they did before a bun was in the oven. Reese Witherspoon in a low V-neck Versace dress. Denise Richards in midriff-baring Donna Karan. Sarah Jessica Parker in 4-inch heels.

All pregnant and proud of it.

"The celebrities have driven this market, this need. It's cool to be pregnant now," said Alexandra Cohan, a spokeswoman at Old Navy, which launched a line of maternity clothes last year. "More and more celebrities are showing off their pregnancies. This is a beautiful thing that women can do. And if women are going to be out about their pregnancies, they want to look good."

For Mercy Medical Center internist Pam Nagy, of Roland Park, looking good while she was pregnant with her 3-year- old and 1-year-old sons meant not being forced to buy "cutesy" or "frumpy" clothes, she said. And for her, it also meant "high-quality."

Most of the big-name mall maternity stores didn't cut it, Nagy said, making shopping while pregnant - even for this avid shopper - a real chore. At some stores, the clothes looked poorly made, she said; at other well-known shops, the merchandise was just too expensive.

Nagy said she was resigned to wearing comfortable hospital scrubs, until she discovered Target for her weekend clothes and Maternity Wardrobe - a boutique in Roland Park - for dressier attire.

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