As her due date gets closer, Emma Bartley finds that style is the biggest sacrifice during pregnancy
Lovely as the Duchess of Cambridge always looks, I haven’t shared her desire to hide my pregnancy behind a series of coats and tiny clutch bags. Kim Kardashian, who has gone down the route of squeezing into skintight bodycon dresses, is often compared unfavourably with her – but I see where Kim is coming from. This is the first time in my life I’ve gained a large amount of weight in a short space of time and it isn’t my fault. Who wouldn’t want to have a bit of fun with it?
Well – as it turns out, the answer to that question is “retailers”. It’s like a conspiracy: pregnant women are supposed to dress only in horizontal stripes and horrible wrap tops. Fashion is beyond them; and what’s the point of trying to be alluring now?
Just take a look at the Mothercare website . It’s great that they offer everything from nightwear to swimwear, but where are the trends? And why do their models assume these coy poses and childlike smiles? People rave about JoJo Maman Bebe, but a look at their bestsellers underlines the problem. Of ten items, two are striped, two are floral, one is pink and frilly, and one is BOOTCUT JEANS. Really? In 2013?
“Grown-up” stores, on the other hand, ignore pregnant women completely. None of the high-street chains that I love for their standout, statement pieces – COS, Whistles, Reiss – do maternity wear. My usual go-to, Zara, has stopped stocking its Mum range in stores and has only a tiny offering on its website of a few pairs of jeans for expectant mums, plus other pieces they think might be suitable – a total of seven items at the time of writing. “There’s no reason for the small selection,” says a spokesman. But I suspect they’ve decided that it’s just not worth their while offering a full specialist range to a smallish group of customers who don’t want to spend a lot.
Because finance is a problem. Casting around online for something vaguely normal to wear, I got obsessed with a brand called Isabella Oliver. They have dresses and tops I’d actually be excited about wearing, plus they’re prepared to sell pregnant women pencil skirts and tailored jackets in case we have, oh, I don’t know, jobs. The trouble is, it’s pretty expensive. I got a blue ruched jersey dress (£119) as a Christmas present, but I couldn’t justify buying anything from them new. Like most pregnant women, I’m preparing to start living on statutory maternity leave of £130 a week. It’s not the time for investment buys.
You can pick up some great things on eBay, though: I got a black pencil skirt (£3.50), a dark grey long-sleeved jersey dress (£30) and a light grey long-sleeved T-shirt (£17), all by Isabella Oliver – that were great finds. Then again, I also got a pair of Mamas & Papas jeans (£14.99) that I couldn’t even get my legs into and some “BNWT” Zara jeans (£17.49) that I think would still be massive if I put them on now, at 37 weeks – it’s a bit hit and miss when you can’t check the sizing, or send things back. The same thing happened when my mum got me a few things from Séraphine (not exactly edgy but they have a good, mid-priced range) – they advised her to buy a size up from usual and I ended up being stopped in the street at around 30 weeks by a concerned stranger who told me that my short grey skirt (£32) was falling down. Let’s not dwell on what she may have seen.
My best shopping experiences by far were at Topshop and H&M. Here, at least, you can find the faint whiff of a trend. My absolute favourite buy has been a pair of black waxed jeans (£28) from H&M – they have a very high belly band attached but sit low on the hips, which is really slimming. I also got a couple of T-shirts, one with a neon lace panel across the neckline, the other in a monochrome tie-dye – along with various large tops I have and can still fit into, these have seen me through. From Topshop, I got a pair of navy blue trousers (£38) with ankle turn-ups that are pretty cool by maternity standards, and a teal satin T-shirt (£4 on eBay) that became my going-out top.
Above: H&M maternity wear
Below: Topshop maternity wear
There is an underlying problem, however: you’re not supposed to wear an underwired bra during pregnancy. As a 32F, I defied this for as long as I could but by about 14 weeks my old bras were just too tight and the John Lewis bra fitters strongly recommended their non-wired styles – apparently underwire can affect the development of your milk ducts, but most pregnant women simply find them uncomfortable after a while. It was cheering to find that they had some nice styles – big shout out to Elle Macpherson Intimates and Emily Lingerie – but the fit was best on the plain John Lewis T-shirt type nursing bras, so I came home with one nude and one black (£30 for pack of two) in a 34F. They’re comfortable, but a flat and sausage-y bust is the result – I think this may be one reason Kim K isn’t looking her best right now.
Towards the end of the pregnancy, around 37 or 38 weeks, is the ideal time to be measured for a nursing bra, so I booked an appointment to be measured by Panache’s maternity specialist, Satnam Kaur. It was bad news again: “You can go down to a 32 around the back again, because as the bump drops you’ll get smaller,” Satnam told me. “But we need to leave another cup size for nursing.” She sent me home with a couple of Panache’s Superbras (£29) – in a 32H. Which was depressing, but they are much nicer styles than I’d had.
In the end, and we are now quite close to the end, I’ve felt pretty good in my maternity wardrobe and, maybe because the bar is set so low, I’ve had a lot of compliments. Totting it all up now, I’ve spent around £250, and been given about another £250-worth. That seems a lot, but since it takes a while for the bump to go down, I’ll probably get nine clear months of wear out of it. Now I’m just starting to feel a little nervous about the next stage – how long will it be before I’m back in my normal jeans?
Weight 83kg (that’s a two-stone gain, folks)