When I became pregnant, I had no idea how hard it would be to find maternity clothes in stores. My only option became online shopping, which meant endless returns. So I say it's about time retailers start paying attention to pregnant folks.
illustrations of maternity outfits
Credit: Margolana/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Ever open up your overflowing closet only to find you've got nothing to wear? Welcome to being pregnant—and good luck shopping for the cause considering the second you grow a baby belly, your shopping options disappear.

Now that I'm 19 weeks pregnant, I would know. While my A-line summer dresses started feeling snug around the same time I found out I was pregnant in July, my chest outgrew my wardrobe well before my bump. Ever the A cup, I upgraded to a B, then a D before realizing that roughly 100 percent of my pre-pregnancy tops, bottoms, and dresses no longer fit quite right.

In an effort to embrace my new figure and the belly budge to come, I purged my closet of every item that was built for no baby on board. My next move was to refill it. Determined to find chic, trendy clothes to accommodate my newfound form, I was more than ready to sacrifice a paycheck or two (or five!).

Maternity Fashion Fail

It only took a few brick-and-mortar stops for me to realize that I wouldn't need my wallet at all. There was literally nothing for me to buy. Most stores, I quickly realized, completely exclude maternity sizes. Even at the Gap, Old Navy, H&M, J.Crew, and Madewell—all stores that sell maternity clothes online—the only ruched tops and stretch-panel pants I could find were scattered on disheveled sale racks, where rogue online returns sporadically surface for the lucky.

Elizabeth Narins
It's me, feeling grateful for wrap dresses and the Lululemon leggings I'm about to buy two sizes up from my usual.

What, dare I ask, do retailers expect pregnant women to wear? And why, I had to wonder, do so many stores outright neglect loyal customers when their bellies begin to swell?

Frustrated, I mustered up the last of my fleeting first trimester energy to sift through straight-size clothing racks for generously-cut tops and dresses. When those didn't work (full-chested women: I honestly don't know how you shop!), I even tried some plus-sized clothing sections. Literally everything was too big in the shoulders, too tight in the chest, or too weird around the belly.

I felt downright excluded and silly for even trying. All I wanted was a few fun pieces to make me feel like me again—a dress (or 12!) that I could throw on for a meeting or wear out to dinner with my friends. With an increasingly unfamiliar figure, I was stoked to play dress up and walk out of there feeling like the chicest mom-to-be on the block. Instead, I went home empty-handed, exhausted, and depressed.

I'm guessing that plus-sized shoppers can relate to some extent. Retailers are finally realizing that plus-size shoppers—that is, more half of women between 18 and 65 who wear a size 14-plus, according to Walmart stats—have bodies to clothe and money to spend. That said, more often than not, extended sizes are exclusively available online, as Vice GARAGE has pointed out. Meaning? Shoppers of all shapes and sizes are still being left out of the IRL shopping experience.

Elizabeth Narins
Poppin' that heel after a (very lonely!) solo shopping trip to Séraphine, a British maternity shop with an outpost in Soho.

Whether you're plus-sized or pregnant, surrendering to size-exclusion in the age of body positivity just doesn't feel great. And yet, midway through my second trimester, I have no choice but to accept that window-shopping at conventional stores just won't serve me while I'm pregnant; from here forward, it's all maternity online orders—and endless returns, since it's seriously tough to predict how clothes will fit the new and ever-changing me.

But Maternity Wear is a Big Market

At face value from a business perspective, the status quo confounds me. After all, American shoppers spent $21.4 billion on extended sizes in 2016, and the global maternity wear market isn't exactly chump change: Valued at $18.3 billion dollars in 2018, it's slated to expand by 4.3 percent annually until 2025.

More and more, market researchers are realizing, pregnant women aren't just sitting around waiting for their due dates to arrive. We still need to go to our desk jobs, to concerts, to our husbands' cousins' bar mitzvahs, and to the gym while we grow tiny humans.

Insemination doesn't stop us from caring about how we look. While we want to be comfortable—obviously!—we'd also like to feel good and included, meaning we'd sure like to shop at our favorite stores with our non-pregnant friends rather than being relegated to online orders.

Elizabeth Narins
My mom finally dragged me to Destination Maternity, where I tried on a strap-on baby belly and roughly every pair of pants in the store.

On behalf of myself and the women who gave birth to some 3.8 million babies last year, according to the CDC, here's my plea to any retailer who will listen: Before you issue a press release announcing that you're size-inclusive, make clothes we pregnant women can fit into. Put them on your racks so we can try them on in your stores. Then take our money! (Oh, and while you're at it, make itty-bitty baby clothes for us to coo over, too.)

Elizabeth Narins is the editorial director of digital and social content at WW (formerly Weight Watchers) and a Brooklyn, NY-based writer. Her best work—a baby!—is due in March 2020. Follow her at @ejnarins.