Although it may be easy to just use your pre-pregnancy clothing or buy clothes in a size or two larger, resist the temptation. "Don't buy large, buy maternity," says Rebecca Matthias, creative director and president of Destination Maternity, a Manhattan-based maternity one-stop-shop and spa. She adds that shoulder space and the rise of pants are important dimensions to achieve a proper fit, and that maternity wear accommodates a pregnant woman's growing body better than non-maternity clothes.
And what is the most important article of plus-size maternity wear? "A good bra," writes fashion expert and image consultant Monet Cole.
If you already know of and trust a plus-size store, ask if they have a maternity line. Even if they don't in their stores, they may have catalogue or online maternity options (often with free return shipping, so you can swap sizes easily).
Otherwise, select a plus-size store with a maternity line that offers clothing options you can afford and can feel both beautiful and comfortable in. (See "Where to Shop" on the next page for ideas.) Finding a brand that fits you in all the right places can be the hardest part, and there's no shame in sticking to one brand and purchasing all of your maternity essentials there. Don't hesitate to get fitted, because many plus-size brands have unique sizing. Also, buy maternity clothes in your pre-baby size: "Talk to [a salesperson] who knows the line. Start at lingerie, go into denim, and work your way up into stuff that you wear every day," Matthias says.
Waist gain during pregnancy can range from 9 to 15 inches on average. To be comfortable, choose clothes in fabrics that offer a little give. "Choose knits or woven fabrics with Lycra. Knits are great with a body size that is slightly larger to begin with and is growing," Matthias says. However, don't shy away from other fabrics completely, because a well-structured outfit gives shape and definition. "Anything that's sort of obviously clingy doesn't work if it clings to all the wrong places," according to Clinton Kelly, stylist and cohost of TLC's What Not to Wear, in a Seattle Post-Intelligencer article.
"Accessories should be larger or they get lost," suggests Matthias. Choosing dramatic jewelry, scarves, and even handbags can balance out the appearance of a woman's body and create a beautiful silhouette. Wear bright-colored lipstick or earrings to bring attention to your face, or don a pair of vibrant shoes to show off your fantastic legs.
"Like your accessories, prints need to be proportional," Kelly adds. Women who are plus-size and pregnant should not be discouraged from wearing prints, Matthias says, but should wear larger prints as opposed to small patterns, which may emphasize a figure. Toile and floral patterns, when worn with other simple items, act as a decoration, not a distraction.
Women who are both plus-size and pregnant agree that it can be difficult to find clothes that give shape instead of looking boxy, blousy, or frumpy. "V-neck sweaters or tops are a wonderful way to create the illusion of a longer neck," Kelly remarks in his Post-Intelligencer article. "Empire-waisted tops, faux wrap sweaters, and baby-doll blouses happen to look good when you are pregnant," Matthias suggests. She also encourages women who are plus-size and pregnant to embrace dresses because they come in all styles, shapes, fabrics, and colors. In support of Matthias' advice, Cole writes, "There is a growing trend to celebrate the beauty of a woman's body during her pregnancy, so the new rules are that fitted tops and dresses are in."
Whether you shop online, in a store, or via catalog, it is helpful to know sizing ranges before you get started:
Plus-Size: 16W to 24W
Maternity: S to 3X
Plus-Size: 1X to 5X
Maternity: XS to 5X
Plus-Size: 16W to 28W
Maternity: 4 to 18
Maternity: S to XL
Plus-Size Maternity: 1X to 3X
Plus-Size: 16 to 26
Maternity: XS to XXL
Plus-Size: 16W to 28W
Maternity: S to XL
Sizes: XS to XXL
Maternity: 0 to 20
Plus-Size: L to 3X
Maternity: XS to XL
Originally published on AmericanBaby.com, June 2006.