Fact: Pregnancy Comes with a Lot of Bulges.
Until I was pregnant for the first time, I couldn’t have appreciated the speed and relentlessness with which a pregnant woman’s body morphes, stretches, bloats, and becomes utterly unrecognizable, especially to her.
That makes the job of designing maternity clothing an especially sensitive, specific art.
When I was pregnant and trying to dress myself for work, I longed for designs that were my style (minimal, tailored, and timeless), but with a little extra something to help me cope with the takeover of my body. I often wished that someone making my pregnancy clothes just “got it.”
In my case, everything seemed designed for someone much taller than me (I’m 5 feet 2 inches), leaving my expanding form looking even more tent-like than was strictly accurate. I needed to dress professionally on the job, and the selection of good quality maternity office wear was shockingly limited. Many garments were made of fabric so thin they were actually see-through, which did nothing to disguise the little rolls forming around my bra and the bloating in my belly that looked more like a bagel habit than a baby. A surprising number of garments on offer were made with loud and busy patterns, which seemed to draw attention to all the wrong places. Most maternity dresses were much too casual for work and most maternity dress pants were too uncomfortable to wear all day (not to mention too long). Nothing flattered. All of it left me feeling that my maternity clothes were designed to be very, very temporary, so quality and style weren’t given much emphasis.
Let me tell you, when a woman is feeling less than awesome about how she looks, finding a flattering outfit can be a game-changer. Being unable to find a flattering outfit just sucks.
The Quest for Maternity Office Wear
Whenever I mentioned my maternity workwear dilemma to the high-powered working moms in my circle, they shared nearly identical experiences of frustration and discomfort with maternity and nursing clothes. It seemed that despite all the searching we had collectively done during pregnancies, not one of us had found a decent nursing top, work dress, or maternity pencil skirt. Eventually, I left my job as an education executive and founded MARION, a sustainable maternity clothing brand focused on office wear for pregnant and nursing mamas-to-be. I was determined to create everything my girlfriends and I needed and couldn’t find. My hope was that other working pregnant moms would have better professional resources than we did.
Designing Maternity Fashion
Designing Maternity Fashion After my first pregnancy, I was excited that my baby weight melted away pretty quickly with daily stroller walks and evening runs a few nights a week. When my second son was born, it was a different story. As I write this, my youngest has recently turned 2, and I’m still substantially heavier than my pre-baby “runner” weight. I still have bulges in places I don’t want them, I am still decidedly against see-through fabrics, and most of my pre-baby pants still don’t button. While I don’t love carrying extra weight this long after giving birth, the struggle to lose it has provided a surprising benefit to designing maternity clothes for MARION. While we’re developing a new style, we have fit models try on samples, along with as many willing pregnant mamas as we can find. I also try the clothes on myself. If I love what they do to MY bulges and if they give me a feeling of support when I’m not feeling completely comfortable in MY body, I feel much more confident that the mamas who buy MARION styles will also feel flattered and supported.
I have heard this from MARION’s pregnant & nursing customers - that they love how they can finally feel like themselves wearing our line. How our collection of petite maternity clothes makes it possible for short mamas to find an outfit that isn’t way too long. How our maternity dresses, pencil skirts, and breastfeeding tops fit and feel like they were made with their beauty and comfort in mind. Because they were. I didn’t find that feeling with my maternity wardrobe, but I am so so determined to make sure other mamas can.
Maternity Office Wear, Breastfeeding Dresses, and Women's Representation
And this is where my thoughts turn abruptly from maternity office wear to representation and equity…
Having someone walk in our shoes makes it so much more likely that they will understand our experiences. It’s urgently necessary that more moms enter positions of power and ownership, in everything from maternity brands to the federal government. We need to have representation from people who share our experiences, because they are the ones who will (eventually) make maternity leave laws that protect us, and provide goods and resources that actually meet our needs. For moms, this has been a long-overdue process, given the stubbornness of motherhood discrimination in the workplace that has replaced the downright subjugation of our maternal fore-bearers in past decades and centuries. Mothers need to be at more decision tables so we can speak to the real, lived experiences of other mothers. Only then can our clothes, and our world, be designed in a way that fits us and the needs of our many demanding roles.
(Note: gaining weight during pregnancy is normal, and no one should ever be shamed for their body’s shape or size. My own healthiest and most comfortable size happens to be at my pre-baby weight, as it best supports my beloved sport of distance running.)
What is your experience with maternity clothes as a working mom? Where do you feel mothers' voices are most urgently needed in 2023?