Monday, July 16, 2018

Maternity garb, Part I: fantasies

Before the day came when I, personally, required special clothing to accommodate an ever-expanding midsection, I had only the vaguest idea of maternity style, or put another way, what you do when, abruptly, none of your clothes fit anymore, and yet the societal requirement to go outside dressed persists. This is at once the very least on my mind at this moment and, in a practical, day-to-day sense, the most. There's an immediate, daunting quality to trying and failing to get dressed in the morning, which the bigger-picture questions (aka anxieties) sort of lack. It is a good, and (relatively) manageable, problem to have.

While pregnant women of course come from throughout society, and have the whole spectrum of attitudes towards their situation, the ones I especially noticed, and who formed my impression of maternity style, were those who Garfinkel and Oates sing about in “Pregnant Women Are Smug.” Women, that is, for whom pregnancy is the pinnacle of bourgeois success. Who’ve checked every box and have now arrived at that one as well. Whose pregnancy look epitomizes that general sense that everything in their lives have lined up.

Do such women exist, really? Almost certainly not - with pregnancy at least as much as everything else in life, particularly where bodies are concerned, there's a lot, even in this supposed post-privacy age, that goes unsaid, or unpublicized.

What I was picking up on, then, was an aesthetic, or more accurately, two overlapping ones: Tribeca Whole Foods Mom, and Park Slope Writer Mom. As for why these two, it’s because these are the women several years my senior who I’d see when walking around New York in my early-mid 20s, as a grad student living in neighborhoods around or not far from such women.

Tribeca Whole Foods Mom – epitomized by Gwyneth Paltrow, who for all I know has never even been to that Whole Foods – involves being unfathomably rich, and toned in a way only possible with infinite money and personal training. There’s an enormous rock of an engagement ring. She wears head-to-toe name-brand, but understated, athleisure. She swaps out her Chanel and La Mer beauty products for still-pricier organic alternatives. This lady would have been selected to do a maternity installment of Into The Gloss’s Top Shelf, and would have inspired my 26-year-old, very much not-pregnant self to buy some too-expensive non-toxic nail polish. A California approach, but a bicoastal lifestyle. 

Park Slope Writer Mom, then, involves not quite as much money, but still a bunch. (A brownstone is likely, but could well have been purchased before those got so expensive.) Its essentials: clogs and in-the-know literary tote bags. As for clothing? Those long, notoriously plain dresses sold in Brooklyn boutiques where everything’s at least $400 (but ethically produced!) and nothing’s on sale. She was probably eating organic already but now that she's pregnant this isn't even a question. She not only has feelings about being pregnant (who doesn’t??) but the openness, talent, and connections needed to weave those into a well-received essay or memoir.

These two aesthetics, then, sit in the back of my mind as I try to sort out my own maternity style. I say “the back” because ultimately the question of style has not much entered into it.

Here’s what happened: One day, my clothing all fit. (I’ve moved apartments a lot, so stuff that didn’t fit for other reasons hadn’t moved with me.) Then it was like, neat, my jeans are snug, I really am pregnant! Then, suddenly, and earlier than the internet said this would happen, even leggings were too tight to get on. Dresses and shirts that probably made me look pregnant when I was not didn’t work, either – maternity-esque is not good enough. The lower bit of my wardrobe became limited to sweatpants and (certain) running shorts, not that I'm running anywhere in them. And now, at just past the halfway point, t-shirts have become an issue.

What I was left with was more an engineering (and frugality) challenge than a fashion one: How can I go outside and look decent, in the covered-up sense, not necessarily the elegance one? How do I convince myself to get past my usual rule for clothing purchases — only buying stuff I desperately want and have contemplated for months — when the time has come to emergency-purchase any cheap pair of pocket-having shorts that are big enough but don't fall down? And least expected of all, given my previous experience of Toronto 'summer' as a whole lot of nothing for which a/c isn't even required: How do I combine these new proportions with the fact that it's ten trillion degrees out this year, and in my current state feels hotter still, in a world where "maternity" is code for "thick band of fabric going up to the armpits"? These questions and more will be addressed in Part II...


Miss Self-Important said...

Two words: Old Navy. You don't even need to buy the specifically maternity clothes. The regular clothes in size M (or often even S) will suffice. Tunics, body-con dresses (pregnancy is the only time they will look good, incidentally, though they will definitely draw attention to the pregnancy), muumuus, whatever. Though you probably do need a pair or two of specifically maternity shorts/pants to put underneath. However, even non-maternity leggings do the job just fine until you have to appear in a formal setting, like a classroom. Don't overthink it; it will cost you like $100 total to outfit the protrusion, unless you have an especially demanding job that requires constant business attire. By contrast, it will cost a bazillion dollars to outfit (in the fullest sense of the word) the consequent person. So consider this a small deposit.

Also, congrats!

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Thanks! Will need to try that. (Part II is going to be more or less an ode to H&M, non-maternity, which is the best I'd come up with thus far.) I am teaching in the fall - well, for most of it - so the current strategy of wearing an enormous t-shirt as a dress isn't going to work. But... precisely, re: the $$$ issue - this is the very last thing it makes sense to spend lots of money on, yet there's apparently quite a market in Toronto for the over-$100 maternity t-shirt.

Miss Self-Important said...

Yes, teaching will complicate matters. I was also obsessed with trying to get only stuff that I could plausibly wear post-maternity so that it wouldn't seem like such a waste of money, and the only viable options I could come up with were maxi dresses and those elastic-banded linen "utility" skirts and shorts. Those things I do still wear, but they're not especially appropriate for work.

But for workwear (assuming you don't wear jeans and leggings to teach), it is truly an expensive waste of money. And all of it is completely uncomfortable no matter how upscale it is. One option is to join local moms' groups on FB, where women frequently re-sell their maternity clothes for cheap after they're done with them. (This is also useful for baby stuff, when the time comes.) There are also often seasonal rummage-type sales where people re-sell stuff their kids have outgrown and buy the next season's stuff, and these include maternity clothes too. I've found both of these things to be super useful for saving kid-related money. Also, if you join the moms' groups, you will immediately discover a whole new world of fascinating social customs to consider. You really can't understand the internet until you participate in this corner of it.

Miss Self-Important said...

Also, the woman who blogs at Extra Petite is currently pregnant and also seems intent on avoiding maternity clothes, and she's done a lot of clothing reviews. You might find something on there useful, although a lot of it is either outlandish or expensive or both.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Oh, am definitely planning to wear jeans and (appropriately-covered) leggings while teaching. I wasn't wearing business attire for this before, and see no reason to start now. Most of what would be too casual to wear would also not work in fall weather.

Curious about these FB groups. Casual perusal online of local meetup-type things has made me think they're all (or is this specific to Toronto?) very hippie-oriented, one with a disclaimer about not shaming anti-vaxxers or something, and I'm already concerned. Will need to investigate further.

Extra Petite does seem helpful, thanks! Can't say I'm quite as... petite as she is, not at this point at least, but her third-trimester look is giving me some second-trimester inspiration.

Miss Self-Important said...

In that case, you might be ok w/ leggings and sweater dresses. Or leggings and tunics with your old cardigans and blazers that you will not attempt to button. The real pains in the ass are maternity tights and maternity suiting.

We are all hippies now, especially when we become parents. Are you drinking alcohol? Smoking cigarettes? Taking sudafed for your colds? No. Are you willing to get a used carseat? Swaddle your newborn in synthetic fabrics? Put it to sleep on its stomach. No. You may not have investigated these issues yet, but you will. These groups are for women who have college degrees (usually, though not out here in Central VA, where we reliably get good ol' fashioned advice about the benefits of spanking, which is a clear class giveaway), and the fact that they seem like hippies to you is itself telling.

Yes, there is a LOT of vaxxing/anti-vaxxing strife - that's ubiquitous. Also small-scale versions of that war in the form of battles over nursing vs. formula, cloth diapering vs. disposables, attachment vs. sleep-training, etc. But the way the conflicts are fought is, I think, quite different from Twitter and other places where there...are men. It's kind of shrill and crazy for a few heated hours, then everyone reconciles. (Lots of these moms' groups are trying to be non-gendered and "open" now, but the reality is that they're overwhelmingly women. Also, the conflicts about whether to allow fathers are fascinating.) The upside is that women try really hard to be helpful if you ask for advice or post in search of some item. Motherhood is a distinct American (and by extension, Canadian) subculture.

Since Toronto is huge, you should probably look for groups in your neighborhood, or in a proximate baby-heavy neighborhood if you're not in one yourself. "Buy/sell" is a good keyword, as is "mamas." Pick the groups that have lots of members and are most active, otherwise they won't be useful. The trade-off is that these will completely take over your feed.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

"We are all hippies now, especially when we become parents."

I'm holding out as long as I can on that front! I mean I'm engaging in my share of overeducated anxious pregnant lady behavior (as in, one of my first purchases after getting a positive test result was a too-large container of allegedly less-toxic nail polish remover from Whole Foods), but haven't switched to organic produce or taken up yoga, and haven't gone any alternative-medicine routes. Not drinking, smoking, or Sudafed-ing, but this doesn't feel hippieish to me?

It's unclear to me at this point how American the Canadian motherhood subculture is. On the whole, everything here has struck me as culturally many notches more progressive than the not exactly conservative parts of the US I've lived in, which hasn't been an issue. But maybe more than that, because going to the doctor, etc., is free (well, tax-funded, without copays) for all, I think there might be more of a class-signaling interest whichever wellness-type extras. A few minutes of googling has me thinking I might be better off culturally in a group with (my fellow) immigrants, than in the online community my demographics would otherwise suggest. (The website of what seems to be the biggest group has led me to a page with 20% off on crystals.)

Miss Self-Important said...

Sure, it's not full-on crystal healing yoga retreat hippie-dom. That's actually largely where the tensions creep in among educated women - between the contingent who still believes in OFFICIAL SCIENCE to lead them and those who want to go beyond science, which also sometimes means back from science (this part is confusing and troubling). But the sense that now extraordinary care must be taken about one's body and surroundings to protect from impurities of all kinds is common to both groups of women, and extends post-partum into childrearing. I suspect that one year from now, I will be able to find organic milk in your fridge - maybe not for you, but for someone. (True fact: we now only drink organic milk. It started out being for the kid. But now...) Anyway, join and see for yourself. It's really an interesting slice of the culture.

caryatis said...

Congratulations! Wishing you all the best.

kei said...

Congratulations!!! I'm very excited for you Jo and Bisou!!!

I tried to stay away from maternity clothing for the longest time but then succumbed to specifically jeans. The jeans/pants I wore the most came from Zara and the Gap (everything is online though, at least Stateside) (sometimes I still wear the Gap pants even though I am now...22 months postpartum!). Uniqlo had not yet offered maternity-wear. The biggest and best investments -- financially and psychological -- were in two pairs of distressed maternity jeans that I bought in Japan. I was fortunate to go when about 4 months pregnant, and they were adjustable for all stages of pregnancy, and postpartum as well. They weren't exorbitantly priced, not like Tribeca or Park Slope mom, but for me they were, and one line of reasoning I had was 'well I might go through this again,' which is still on the radar (though it's hard to imagine it now with a bouncy toddler, and also, I'm by no means suggesting this thought process for you, just sharing my experience!). I'm afraid my other go-to outfits were dresses from GU, the cheaper and more stylish sister store to Uniqlo, which has not yet branched out, or at least in the Western part of the world. Hiroshi was not a big baby in the womb, and he hung out a little low, and he didn't make it to full term, so I may have gotten away with more than if these things weren't the case.

Anyway, I wish you great health and comfort as much as that is possible in the summer, and hopefully all the teaching and scheduling but most of all yours and baby health go smoothly in the fall!

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...




Thank you! Re: Bisou, on that note... you are in inspiration to me in terms of baby and dog getting along. Seems like it could be challenging!

Gap does have online-only maternity here. Zara seems not to. Uniqlo's "maternity section," both in Toronto and at a biggish store in NYC, seems to just be this one style of skinny jeans that (on me at least) don't fit as well as I'd want them to, although they're a nice shade of green so I'll probably keep wearing them. The Japanese maternity clothes do sound impressive! I maybe should have looked in Italy but with the euro to Canadian dollar exchange rate, it's probably for the best I did not.

David Schraub said...

Mazel Tov!

Also, "what you do when, abruptly, none of your clothes fit anymore, and yet the societal requirement to go outside dressed persists" is a great piece of writing.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


Thanks re: both!