When my other half was pregnant last year, she relied on Zofran and pants with stretchy waistlines to survive. Her policy on maternity clothes was: “To buy things that I would still be able to wear after, and to buy secondhand.” Why invest in an expensive niche wardrobe for a body that won’t even be around next season?
At Racked, Stephie Grob Plante writes the ultimate cultural history of maternity clothes, what she calls the “temporary wardrobe” that cause endless stress, self-loathing and irritation for pregnant women. Seamlessly weaving the personal with the reportorial, Plante wrote this piece while eight months pregnant between doctor’s visits, staring into various mirrors, examining her concerns. She isn’t what she calls “the glamorous pregnant person you’ve seen on Instagram,” though she speaks with the people behind new fashionable maternity brands to understand how this $2 billion industry is and is not evolving. For centuries in Western countries, pregnancy was something women were supposed to hide. The first commercial maternity items arrived in 1904 with the Lane Bryant brand’s drawstring waistband dresses, designed to disguise. Plante shows how the pendulum has swung, so that maternity clothes accentuate and celebrate what pop culture has named the baby bump. America has become bump-obsessed. But the old fear of looking “dowdy” in these clothes, the expenses and cultural pressures to stay both healthy and trendy, to read all the baby books and keep working, persist.
If clothes designed specifically for maternity are a relatively new phenomenon, maternity clothes that meet trends head-on are even newer. After all, this is an apparel segment that retail has long tackled as a nuisance, not an opportunity.
“Fashion doesn’t want to acknowledge women with changing figures,” Goldman told Elle in a 2016 interview. “What I’m trying to do is defy the perception that this is a dreaded year of your life where you’re not allowed to look good. I’m trying to make it sexy and okay and lovely and interesting because that’s what it is. How cool is it? You’re having a baby!”
I do feel powerful, I must admit. It’s not just me that I speak for now; I have backup. At 24 weeks, I use some birthday money I’d squirreled away in my desk drawer for a prenatal massage, justifying the expense to my husband, “We need this.” During my session, the massage therapist confides that he loves doing prenatal massage because it’s like working on two people at once.
I laugh and the baby pummels my side. Every decision I’ve made over the past months — washing my hands until they chap and bleed, rescheduling a dental appointment from the chair when the hygienist reveals that she’s “a little under the weather” — I’ve made not for my own benefit, but for the kicking, punching, blood sugar-spiking creature wreaking havoc beneath my skin. To me, wearing body-hugging clothing right now is a declaration of dependence. Here we are! Please don’t sneeze on us!