Hi New Professional readers! I'm S. of Narrowly Tailored, and I'm thrilled to be pitching in for Angeline while she's away (returning the favor she did for me while I was on maternity leave a few weeks ago). Today, I'm tackling a topic that's fresh on my mind from recent experience: building a professional wardrobe while you're pregnant.
My daughter M. was born just over a month ago, and I live in the mid-Atlantic, so my advice is slightly colored by having been barely pregnant in the winter and having gone through my third trimester during the hottest summer on record in our region (a fact I'll be sure to tell her when she gets older). I'm also a third-year law student who spent the summer working at two law firms in a major city with different dress codes, so I ended up needing clothes that fit a range of business casual to business-not-so-casual environments. In addition, like all of us, my body, my pregnancy and my closet are all beautiful and unique snowflakes, so your mileage may vary as to what works best for you. With that in mind, here are some of the things I wish I'd known about building a maternity wardrobe for the office:
- First of all: you can do it! You will have days where you don't feel awesome, and where nothing fits right, and you can't imagine buying one. more. piece. of maternity clothing. But I promise, it is possible to put together a maternity wardrobe for the office that is stylish, current and makes you feel fabulous in your pregnant body.
- Consider your office dress code carefully (I've written more about this here). In particular, do you really need a suit? Will your colleagues cut you a little bit of sartorial slack during your pregnancy? If you have friends at work who've recently had kids, ask them what their essential pieces were, and any stylistic pitfalls they ran into.
- Take a hard look at your existing closet. What might fit for a while longer? How heartbroken will you be if some of these pieces get stretched out in the process? How comfortable are you using a bella band and/or the rubber band trick to extend the life of your pre-pregnancy pants?
- Cast a wide net when it comes to sourcing maternity items.
- Do you have a friend or a sister of a similar size who has recently been pregnant? Is there a clothing swap coming up among your friends or in your region? I had good luck "shopping" a size or two up early in my pregnancy at a clothing swap a friend organized.
- Embrace shopping online. Many maternity lines are online only, so check your measurements regularly and be prepared to be a frequent visitor to your local post office to return things that don't work. Take advantage of free shipping whenever you can. In addition to brand-specific websites, try Zappos, Diapers.com, Figure8Maternity and Amazon.
- Consider renting if you need a specific piece for a special event, like a suit for a job interview or a dress for a formal event. Websites like Mine for Nine have some great options, but think about the true cost per wear of renting a piece: it may be more economical to purchase an item new (or used) and then resell it on eBay or at a consignment shop.
- Think beyond the Gap, Loft, Old Navy and Liz Lange for Target. I purchased a number of items from each of these stores during my pregnancy, and some of them were my MVPs. But for professional pieces and things I knew I was going to wear every day, I had better luck when I branched out a bit, to brands like Olian, Japanese Weekend, and Maternal America, many of which can be found used or new on eBay at huge discounts.
- eBay, eBay, eBay. I got so many of my key pieces from eBay, including a pair of discontinued Loft "real waist" trousers, two pencil skirts for less than $5 each, and two pairs of Olian work trousers late in my pregnancy (and on a semi-emergency basis) for $15 a pair. There's a high-volume trade in new and used maternity items available, and it can be a great source for hard-to-find items if you're willing and able to hunt for them.
- Don't do it all at once! While I tried to come up with the "one list to rule them all" early in my pregnancy of exactly what I would need, I quickly realized what a goofy idea that was. While I tried to prioritize purchases and think critically about how big of a capsule wardrobe I was acquiring, saving room in my budget and my closet to accommodate my changing body (and changing waistband preferences) as my pregnancy progressed was critical.
- Be willing to experiment. Your body is doing a crazy and completely amazing thing! It will change in ways you won't expect, and in some ways you will. You'll be more excited about some of them and less excited about others. Take advantage of the freedom of an unfamiliar body to experiment with styles and proportions you wouldn't necessarily wear. You might surprise yourself with something you love.
- Stay true to what you love to wear. I thought about putting together a list of "essential" items here, but I realized the answer to that question is in many ways, way too individual, and also one to which you already know the answer. Think about what you love to wear to work now, and what kinds of things make you feel comfortable, put together and like your best, most brilliant self. Seek out the maternity equivalents of these items, or refashion or adapt your existing pieces to make them work with your changing body. You are doing something difficult and incredible, and you deserve to feel both fabulous and competent while you're doing it!
If you've recently had a child, what do you wish you'd known about building a maternity wardrobe? What surprised you most about dressing your pregnant body?