Build Your Maternity Wardrobe

This week, you can

• Go through your existing wardrobe to decide which of your clothes to pack away, which you might be able to get more wear out of during your pregnancy, and which you should keep close by for after the baby’s birth
• Make a list of clothing items you’ll need during your pregnancy, and decide whether to borrow those items from a friend or relative, raid your spouse’s closet, or buy your own
• Come up with a system for circulating clothes as they are outgrown
• Shop for items you’ll need in the coming weeks, with an eye to the future
• Make a plan for replenishing your maternity wardrobe as your pregnancy progresses

CONSIDER YOURSELF LUCKY! When Meagan was pregnant with her first child in the late ’90s, there weren’t nearly as many options in maternity wear as there are now. Stores usually carried just a rack or two of maternity clothing. What was available was often cheaply made and featured prints as infantile as a newborn’s layette, complete with unflattering details like ruffles and bows in all the wrong places. It was as though pregnant women were expected to dress like babies themselves. Many tears were shed in department-store dressing rooms during that first shopping excursion.

Things have certainly changed since then. From high-end to discount, there’s a huge array of maternity clothing available that’s stylish. Better still, some compassionate genius finally realized that women don’t stay the same size throughout their pregnancies. Now you can buy clothing specially made for the first, second, or third trimester. You’ll also find a variety of fitting options to choose from, from drawstring waists to elastic panels that firmly hug a growing belly instead of falling down.

While choices are great, they can also complicate things a bit. Do you run out and buy clothes for the entire pregnancy early on? Or wait and see how big you get? Do you need a pair of pants with each type of waistband?

I recommend shopping for maternity clothes slowly and deliberately. Yes, it can be tempting to run out and load up on those adorable shirts. But every pregnant woman develops differently, and carries her baby differently, too. Surely you’ve seen a pregnant woman who looks as though she swallowed a basketball—no weight gain in her rear or hips. If you’re less lucky, you’ll add extra “padding” throughout your entire midsection. You’ll need to make decisions about which styles are most flattering and comfortable based on which category you fall into—and you probably can’t know that yet.

Also, a word of caution: Don’t leap into maternity clothing too early in the pregnancy. Yes, many women start outgrowing their jeans almost as soon as they see the pink lines on the pregnancy test. And by now, several months in, you’re almost certainly bursting out of some of your pre-pregnancy clothes. But while you may feel like you look just huge, chances are good that your “baby bump” isn’t very noticeable to others yet. At this point, maternity tops or jeans may just hang on you and look sloppy—or worse, make that cute baby belly look more like a case of bloat.

What to do while you’re waiting for your midsection to grow a little bigger? Some tricks to try:

• Shirts with gathered sides. Whether you get them off the maternity rack or from the regular department, gathered shirts hold nice and snug against your figure early on, then expand with you. They make a great postpartum top because they are forgiving without looking like muumuus.
• Crisp, tailored cotton tops. Don’t shy away from fitted clothes early on in your pregnancy. A shirt with just a bit of “give” will accommodate your growing form but still look pulled together.
• Work with what you’ve got. With some ingenuity, your existing pants can work for a few more weeks. Try threading a rubber band through the buttonhole on your favorite jeans and use it for stretchy closure. Or buy a Bella Band—a stretchy tube of fabric you wear over your unbuttoned pants to hold them snug against your body while giving you a smooth look under shirts.
• Raid your husband’s closet. If he’s not much larger than you, you may find that his T-shirts or even his pants fit for a while.
• Think yoga and dance. Companies like Gap Body, Capezio, and Lululemon make yoga and dance wear that easily go from studio to home, and, depending on your dress code, maybe even the office. Plus you’ll get a lot of wear out of a well-made pair of yoga pants in your early months of motherhood. Look for pants with firm enough waistbands to support your growing body and smooth out lumps and bumps.


I know you’re still dying to get to the fun part—shopping—but we need to go through a few important steps first. You just got done organizing your closet. The last thing you want to do is stuff it full of clothes you won’t really need.

What I want you to do first is to think about your unique clothing needs. Many pregnancy books will give you a checklist of items to buy for your maternity wardrobe—for example, three pairs of jeans, two skirts, two leggings, and so on. I’m not going to do that because I don’t know how you dress on a regular basis. The point is that your maternity wardrobe has to work for you. The only way for you to know that it will is to look at what you actually wear and then try to figure out wardrobe solutions for your new body.

Think back over your last typical week and write down the items you wore each day. For example, maybe you work in a professional office. This week you may have worn two skirts, two button-down shirts, two blazers, two sweaters, two pairs of dress slacks, one dress, one pair of leggings, two pairs of jeans, three casual tops, and two sets of workout clothes. On the other hand, if you work from home or in a casual office, your particular wardrobe may have been much heavier on the jeans and casual tops. Either way, the best way to get a feel for what your needs might be throughout the pregnancy is to take a look at what you wear in your actual life.


It’s likely that the first clothing purchase you’ll need to make is a good, supportive bra. For many women, added girth in this area is one of the first symptoms of pregnancy. And while you’re gestating, your breasts may continue to grow.

A good bra that fits your new figure is a must, but there’s nothing magical about maternity bras. If you already shop at a lingerie store whose products or employees you trust, feel free to go back there to get fitted for your pregnancy bras. Just make sure that whatever bra you choose, it has a supportive cup and a wide, adjustable strap that’s not too stretchy.

Some so-called maternity bras double as nursing bras, but I think this is a potential waste of money. Your breasts may grow again by as much as a cup size or two in the early days of breastfeeding. Don’t spend a lot of money on maternity/ nursing bras now expecting to use them later. You may have very different needs when you’re actually breastfeeding.

The same goes for maternity underwear. Many women find that they can wear the same bikini underwear throughout their pregnancies. You might be tempted to buy a few packages of those “granny panty” maternity briefs, but consider this: They have a nasty habit of rolling down over your belly. This is very uncomfortable and not too attractive either.

Now think about how often you do laundry or take your clothes to the dry cleaner. Are you willing to attend to laundry more often throughout your pregnancy so that you don’t have to buy as many clothes? Or will you do the laundry with the same frequency—or even less often? Also, how hard are you on your clothes? How many times do you wear a garment before you toss it in the hamper or the dry cleaning bag? Be realistic. With this information in mind, map out a list of what you’ll need to get you through your pregnancy.

Using grid paper, regular notebook paper, or an Excel spreadsheet, make a list of each item you’ll need down the left-hand side of the paper. List each item separately (i.e., if you need two pairs of jeans, write “jeans” twice). If you want specific styles or colors of each (e.g., “black slacks” or “white button-down shirt”), also note that in your list. Working in Excel will allow you to easily update this list throughout your pregnancy as your size and needs change. I’ve included a sample checklist for you to copy.

Now go through any clothing you may have already purchased or that friends or family have lent you and figure out what fits into which category. If you’ve got an item, mark an X to its right. Again, be realistic. If your best friend loaned you a maternity sweater and you hate it, it doesn’t count. You won’t wear it. If you are lucky enough to find in your stack of loaner clothing a few “bonus” pieces (e.g., a fancy dress you love even if you aren’t sure you’ll need it yet, or three sweaters when you only need two), add them to the bottom of your list. You want an accurate picture of what you have on hand, so if a wedding or other special event comes up, you can tell at a glance whether you’re ready.

Clothing Item On Hand
Jeans, boot cutX
Jeans, skinny legX
White button-down shirt
Leggings, blackX
Cardigan, casual cotton
Cardigan, dressy cashmereX
Work jacket, black

When you’ve finished with this exercise, you’ll have a pile of clothes that you know you’ll need and a list indicating exactly what you still have left to purchase. You may also have some items that have been loaned to you that you aren’t sure whether you’ll need or not. Read on for some ideas to help you prevent a “donation explosion” in your home!


People love to give pregnant women unsolicited stuff—especially advice, books, and clothes! Chances are good that the minute you tell the world about your baby-to-be, friends start showing up at your office or front door with bags and totes full of maternity and baby clothes. Sharing clothing and baby gear is a wonderful way to save money on things you’ll only use for a short time. But it can also be a pain to keep track of, and one woman’s taste (or size) may not match another’s. If you live in a small space and Susan is dying to bring over a tote full of baby clothes, you may not know where you’ll put them. And of course, if both Kelly and Jenny lend you maternity clothes, it can become tricky keeping them all separate as you grow out of certain items and into others. Here are a few simple guidelines to help you keep track of donations.
Realize that most women hold onto their pregnancy outfits for sentimental reasons. Your pregnancy, however, offers them a completely guilt-free way to clean out their closets! Consider accepting only those clothing items that are being given, rather than loaned. You won’t have to worry about rips, tears, or stains. You can also donate the items as soon as you outgrow them, or sooner if they’re not your style.
If you are part of a large circle of family and friends who are planning multiple births over the next few years, you may wish to keep these items rotating in your group. This is fine provided you have the space to store everything while you wait for the next birth announcement. Garage shelves are ideal for this. Divide the items by trimester (or size, for baby clothes) and store them in clearly labeled, heavy-duty plastic tubs. If you aren’t the one with the garage, find the gal in your circle who does have the space!
If you do wish to accept items that are only on loan, get permission to ID them. You can keep a written log, but this can be easy to lose track of, especially if you aren’t feeling your best throughout your pregnancy and/or are inundated by stuff. Instead, assign a color to each friend or colleague who makes a donation. Placing a slight color mark or initial on the inside sewn-in tag will remind you who gave you the item. You can find a cheap ten-pack of fabric-safe markers at fabric stores like Joanne’s.
If you simply don’t need or have space for items, steel yourself for those well-meaning souls who want to foist their castoffs on you. Don’t be afraid to gracefully say no!


Finally—you can go shopping! Armed with your list, head to a few of your favorite stores and try some items on. Maternity boutiques often have “pregnant belly” prostheses you can try on under your clothing to get a sense of how an outfit will look as you grow. This may or may not be all that accurate for you, but it will at least give you an idea.
A few things to think about as you shop:

• Keep seasons in mind. If you live in an area with four seasons, your pregnancy will span at least three of them. If you’re going to buy clothes you won’t fit into for a while, be sure the seasons will work.
• Better yet, don’t buy ahead. In general, just try to focus on the next few months of your pregnancy. As you grow out of certain items, you can come back with an accurate idea of what you still need.
• You’re still you. While it can be tempting to splurge on romantic, fluttery dresses or hippie skirts while pregnant, if you didn’t wear those styles before, you probably won’t wear them now. Pregnancy doesn’t change your sense of style. If anything, you’ll probably feel even more conspicuous in a fashion that isn’t “you” when you’ve got a twentypound lump sticking out of your front.
• Look carefully at waistbands. You’ll see simple drawstrings, two-inch firm elastic waists, belly panels that come about halfway down to the crotch of the pants, and full-belly panels. The drawstrings and two-inch elastic waists are great for early on, but many women outgrow them fairly quickly. The half-belly panels often work well into the third trimester and will probably be what you will wear for the first couple weeks after your baby arrives. At this point of your pregnancy (three months in), you’ll definitely want to avoid full-belly panels. They’ll just let your stomach “pooch” out and look baggy and lumpy. Only buy them later, if and when you need them.
• Store all your maternity clothes by the stage of your pregnancy. Hang as many of the items in your closet as you can, then keep them sorted on hangers by type (pants, tops, or jeans for example). Use color as we discussed last week to help you find things in a flash. But whether you’re putting these clothes in your dresser drawers, closet shelves, or a storage tub or two, just be sure you keep everything separate! If you have the bathing suit for your first trimester in with the tops for your final weeks, it’s going to get crazy-making.

As this week draws to a close, I’m going to bet you are feeling a bit overwhelmed by the clothing issue. Remember the Magic Formula? When in doubt, “eliminate, categorize, organize.”

“Eliminate” can mean something shouldn’t even cross your threshold. Bring into your life only what you really need. Resist impulse spending. A top may be adorable, but how many times are you going to wear it? Continuously send back out into the world the donated items you will no longer use.

Keep related items together. You will find that categories make you feel powerful and in control. From soup to T-shirts and screws to paper towels, you’ll be aware of exactly what you have in every household category imaginable because you will then automatically know exactly what you need. Think of the time, energy, and money you’ll be saving. Practice keeping your categories organized. If you can control your wardrobe, you can control the other large categories that are about to descend on your life, from toys to books and beyond. In organizing, the items change, but the principles stay the same.

Finally, if you share a closet with your spouse, don’t forget to give some thought to how his clothes will be arranged, too. He’s watching his partner grow and the environment change right before his eyes; be sure he doesn’t feel displaced. I worked with a woman once who had usurped every closet, drawer, cupboard, and cabinet in the home as she grew great with child. She felt she was all set and so was their soon-to-be-born baby. But her husband felt like he was being squeezed out of the house. Don’t let that happen in your home. Include your husband in everything from the start. It will develop into a natural habit. The story of a marriage isn’t told in the grand, sweeping events that mark its history. It’s created in the day-today details like making sure he has enough space for his clothes. You’re teammates after all in this great, once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
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