Fashion is a form of self-expression and can allow you to more confidently present your personal identity. But how do you maintain that extension of yourself when becoming a mother? For most, it's a dramatic transformation of both your life and your body, leaving little money or time to focus on yourself, let alone the clothes you wear.
With a number of the fashion set announcing pregnancies over the past year or so – from Susie Lau to Leandra Medine – we asked a few of our favourite dressers how they've tackled maternity style and how they're staying true to themselves while life throws bigger priorities their way.
Trine Kjær has been running one of Denmark's most popular style sites since 2008. Her way with bold colours and a statement sneaker has captured the attention of her 103k Instagram followers. For her, the trickiest part was the first trimester. "I found it pretty difficult to get dressed in the beginning of my pregnancy. We kept it secret for the first four months, and trying to dress like normal while feeling really bloated was extremely hard," she explains. "I remember I felt so relieved the second we announced the pregnancy, then I didn’t have to hide the little bump anymore, and it was time to figure out how I wanted to dress as a pregnant woman."
Katherine Ormerod, founder of Work Work Work, an anti-perfectionism site that looks behind the superficial veil of social media, agrees. "I think at the beginning it’s hard, because you're really trying to hide your bump. I think that's the toughest time because you might be in work environments where you want to keep it under your hat for a while, or you just don't want to say anything before your 12-week scan. Your body is changing and it's not like you're going to be showing off your new figure, so you just have to pretend that it isn't changing. I found that the hardest time."
Once the announcement has been made, women are faced with figuring out exactly how to dress for the next six or so months. For writer Pandora Sykes, being fashion-conscious is taking a back seat. “[Being pregnant brings] a very different personal style. It’s a lot of skinny trousers with oversized shirts or big jumpers, bodycon dresses and stretch skirts. I maintain my personal style from before with great coats and big earrings, but otherwise it’s changed a lot as my body is so different and I don’t want to spend a lot of money or energy on my style!”
Spending huge amounts on clothes with a lifespan of nine months wasn’t for Trine, either. "The first thing I decided was that I didn’t want to spend much money on maternity clothes," Trine tells Refinery29. "It seems like a waste of money and also unsustainable to invest in a whole new maternity wardrobe that I wouldn’t use as soon as my baby was born." Instead? Edit. "I took a close look at my wardrobe. Everything oversize and without a waist I kept in my closet and the rest I put away. That made me realise that I actually had a lot of items that I was able to wear even though I was pregnant. Shirts, track pants, knits and a lot of my dresses. I bought a couple of new and pretty bras since my breasts got bigger, and nice underwear always makes me feel more confident. The fact that I still wore regular clothes made me feel way more like myself."
While to well-meaning outsiders the bump is the focus, the women themselves are experiencing a whole host of other changes to their bodies, from bums to calves via boobs and feet. “A mind-blank moment for me was when I got really big bosoms,” Katherine says. “I went from a 32B to a 34E in about four months. A lot of the way I dressed involved deep V-necks and polo necks, which are really chic when you’ve got nothing, but can become quite X-rated with a huge cleavage. Either you wear something that’s unsuitable for a professional environment, or you try and cover it up completely, which can look frumpy. Learning to dress the boobs has been the biggest challenge for me.” As Katherine’s signature style is feminine, with casual florals and dresses a big part of her everyday wardrobe, wearing something bump-suitable – “like a pair of maternity jeans with an oversized shirt and flat shoes” – feels unusual. “I'd feel like I was wearing someone else's wardrobe,” she says.
The problem with maternity dressing, and perhaps part of the reason the market isn’t really catered for by fashion brands, is that no one body changes in the same way. Two 5”6, size 14 women won’t see the same body part getting bigger, and one bump may sit lower than the other’s. One person’s calves might expand, requiring bigger knee-high boots, while someone else may need empire lines on dresses to sit higher. With this in mind, brands tend to offer elasticated waists and not much else. So with your body changing throughout your pregnancy – and in ways you wouldn’t have predicted – how do you keep your personal style during the transition?
“I just sized up,” Pandora says. “I’ve worn a lot of H&M, Joseph, and Raey, plus Topshop Maternity jeans. I can’t really do heels now, so I’ve relied heavily on my Golden Goose trainers and Maje studded Derby brogues.” Trine relied on Danish brand Ganni. “I was living in mesh maxi dresses – they work perfectly for every occasion. At work I wore them with a knit and sneakers and for a night out I paired them with mules and red lips.” “I think it’s about responding to your body and keep trying!” Katherine advises. “Just try on everything, even outside of maternity lines, and find what works. I have a few dresses that have fit all the way through my pregnancy, but you wouldn’t have guessed that they would before trying them on.” Her hero piece? A black turtleneck midi dress from Isabella Oliver. “That was an ‘Aha!’ moment. It’s a blank canvas – it looks like a tube skirt if you layer a knit over the top, you can throw an oversized denim jacket over it, wear it with biker boots or with heels for the evening. If you find layers that cover your body in a way you’re happy with, you can layer the rest.”
What do these women think could change in order for pregnant women and mothers to feel more powerful in their fashion choices? “In general, women are too hard on themselves,” Trine states. “I would lie if I didn’t admit that it took some time getting used to my new pregnant body – especially before the bump really popped out – but instead of focusing on my extra pounds, I tried to focus on the good stuff. Like the fact that I felt more womanly with my bigger breasts and that I would never have to suck in my stomach if I wore a tight dress!” Media representation was also key for her. “I would love to see more editorials in fashion magazines with pregnant women. I did a mood board on Pinterest with pictures of cool pregnant women like Blake Lively and Natalia Vodianova, and that gave me a lot of inspiration fashion-wise. I think that social media can help change the way pregnant women feel about themselves, too – following cool pregnant women on Instagram was really inspiring to me.”
Trine, having had her daughter now, is back to wearing the bright colours and statement patterns that drew her social following in. “I’m anticipating going back to my personal style of before,” Pandora says. “I can’t wait!” Katherine doesn’t see it changing much, either. “I can't imagine that I’ll suddenly be toning anything down,” she states. “I think style confidence is so important, but from what I gather from friends, for those first six months so much of that stuff is tied up with how you feel about your body. So basically, watch this space – I'm not putting any pressure on myself to be at my fabulous fashion peak in the next few months!” While practicality is surely at the forefront for a while – like dresses that are suitable for nursing – Trine highlights the importance of fashion as self-expression for her: “I love my new identity as a mum but I still want to be Trine, and fashion is an important way for me to express myself and for me to feel like myself.”
While wanting to feel, and thus dress, like yourself while pregnant is vital to many women, the most important approach is to go easy on yourself and embrace the changes. Nail the basics that make you feel comfortable and make room for flashes of your personal style – from statement earrings to signature prints. It’s society’s job to avoid setting standards for pregnant women and new mothers, aesthetic or otherwise.