I'm a pregnant snowflake. Help me dress myself.
June 14, 2014 6:38 PM   Subscribe

The past 3 years of my life have brought both steady weight gain and financial instability, leaving me with a very sparse, heavily-worn and ill-fitting wardrobe. The financial strain has finally lifted, so yay! time to get some new clothes. The problem? I'm 10 weeks pregnant, teetering into plus sizes, and trying to strategize my purchases for maximum future wear.

Even before I got pregnant, my weight was hovering just at the point where I could fit into the largest sizes at the regular stores, but sometimes the 14 (US) pants were a little snug. I am aware of the Bellaband, but even unzipped, my thighs aren't fitting into my nicest pair of jeans. I have a decent amount of leggings, but they're getting holes in them at this point. I have only one shirt I actually enjoy wearing and feel good in. I have a lot of tanktops that I've been wearing to keep my belly from sticking out under my shirts, but my shirts are just getting too tight.

I'm really more fat/chubby than actually showing right now. Even without the pregnancy, my body is drastically different than it was the last time I had a proper budget for clothes shopping, and the styles that used to look really good on me aren't flattering anymore. I miss the days when I had a "uniform" of basics from The Gap or American Apparel with fun pieces from local vintage stores or Anthropologie's sales rack mixed in. I'm primed to splurge and re-build my closet, but am a little lost on which basics are the best to buy at this point. I don't love shopping, and hate buying cheap clothes at Target and H&M just to have them look like crap after a season of wear.

I realize that clothes that fit now won't fit when my belly is huge, but are there things I can buy now that will still work post-baby? Is it actually wise to buy a new wardrobe of ruched tops? Where's a lady to get a decently priced tunic that's not made of rayon? Are there any good tips on transitioning into the plus-sizes in general? And if I'm only plus-sized on the bottom, how do I best deal with that?

Most of all, now that my go-to stores aren't working, where should I shop? I strongly prefer natural fibers, will err on the side of comfortable, but don't want to totally give up on style. If I've outgrown most vintage store clothes, but don't have the patience for GoodWill, where do I get cool things to add some life to my wardrobe? (Bonus points for being in Portland, OR and/or not expensive) I mostly work from home, but need to look (creative) professional for client meetings.

Thank you!
posted by ohisee to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (21 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I'm at that in between size too. I find that in general a women's XXL fits much better than a plus size 1X. J Jill and Eddie Bauer have generous XLs and also carry XXL and up to size 18 bottoms. They also both tend toward natural fibers. I know you say you'd rather not do cheap but Old Navy and Target also both do larger sizes and if you look carefully you can find some decent pieces. Target also has a surprisingly good maternity section.
posted by Requiax at 6:51 PM on June 14, 2014

I love ThredUp for all kinds of clothing, and they have a maternity section as well as a wide range of other sizes as well. They take returns without any trouble (have to pay for return shipping though), and the quality of stuff I've gotten has been absolutely fantastic for the price - high-quality at Old Navy-ish prices. As long as I mostly stick with familiar brands so I can guess how things will fit, I've had great luck.
posted by dialetheia at 7:01 PM on June 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

When I was pregnant I bought lots of cardigans...I wore them open to let my pregnant belly out, and wore the buttoned/belted postpartum.it worked well.
posted by christinetheslp at 7:30 PM on June 14, 2014

Maxi skirts and maxi dresses are awesome. It's basically my sister's uniform during her third pregnancy. You can dress them up/down and just pull the waist band up to fit comfortably as your pregnancy begins to show. Kohls extra large maxi skirts are her go to - she's between a 12 and a 14 when not pregnant and swears by them. They're a cotton/spandexy blend and look super comfortable and chic.

Congrats on the pregnancy!
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 7:42 PM on June 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you are on a limited budget, I would not buy new for maternity since by definition your wear will be time limited. I would buy second hand... people sell off entire maternity wardrobes by size as a single job lot on EBay for example. I think it makes more sense to invest postpartum, personally.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:42 PM on June 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think they made Gwynnie Bee just for you! I can't ju$tify it right now myself, but I hear good things. You pay them a monthly subscription fee and they send you all the clothes you want - like netflix for dresses I think. Oh, and it's all plus sizes!!!
posted by The Noble Goofy Elk at 7:44 PM on June 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, just think of yourself as dressing for your pregnancy right now. Your post baby body is a future project. Layers, elastic waisted skirt/leggings, tunic shirts and tank tops, low heeled shoes. Maxi dresses. You can find lots of things in cotton.

But what about the cute, you ask? Use accessories. Nice jewelry, good haircut, scarves, etc can smarten up pregnancy clothes. But your core pieces need to be about comfort. You will be wearing some of them for a little while postpartum also.
posted by emjaybee at 8:33 PM on June 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Twenty weeks post-partum here and about your size. I usually have a uniform, too, and I was eager to see that through my pregnancy. But the truth is that your size and shape is incredibly in flux right now and spending money even in the first trimester is kinda stupid. If I were going to do it again, this is what I'd do while pregnant

-buy one pair of under-the-belly jeans
-buy one pair of under-the-belly slacks or cords
-buy one pair of over-the-belly jeans
-buy a flexible softcup nursing bra (you may have to buy a second in a few months)
-buy a bunch of old navy maternity t-shirts

Postpartum, if you are breastfeeding, your staples will be:

-nursing camisoles
-nursing bras (both for sleep and during the day. I am not someone who would normally ever wear a bra to sleep. I need it to keep nursing pads in place.)
-low cut shirts that will let you pop a boob out and/or nursing friendly top layers like hoodies and button-up shirts

I did not think enough about nursing practicalities while buying clothes during pregnancy. The old navy maternity tees are great for that--they're stretchy boat and v-neck shirts--but I invested in a bunch of dresses that are worthless now. Most of them make me look hugely pregnant because they have empire waistlines. Those that don't are impossible for breastfeeding. If you're going to get dresses, think: nursing access (H&M has some cute ones), wrap dresses, deep v-necks and stretchy knits. I know cheap clothes suck but . . . spandex-full fabrics are great for the size changes of pregnancy and will hold up better to the abuses of parenting a small person.

Post partum sizes are weird and unpredictable. I gained 50 pounds during my pregnancy. Now I'm up only 10 pounds over my pre-pregnancy weight, but I've gone from a DD to an H cup. I have a big, soft belly that flops over my pre-pregnancy jeans, but my hips and butt are smaller. My body is challenging to dress in ways I never would have anticipated, and it's still changing. I see now that generally, throughout my pregnancy and post-partum period, I was too quick to run out and buy clothes. Now I have a ton of maternity jeans that won't stay up without a bump, and even too-big post-partum jeans. I'd go conservative for this. And seriously, it's really, really not worth it to spend too much money, except for on bras. A good nursing bra is worth its weight in gold.

And congratulations!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:42 PM on June 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

Thanks everyone! Planning for nursing now is brilliant. I will also heed your advice not to spend too much money at this point and just accept that cheaper clothes are a blessing. I should just plan on shopping more frequently rather than trying to get a bunch of stuff at once. I'll can limit my cute indulgences to accessories and cardigans, and maybe a tunic that hopefully will fit post-baby, but makes me feel put-together in the short term either way.

Thank you! I can get so overwhelmed with choice when buying clothes, and am so relieved to have a plan.
posted by ohisee at 9:32 PM on June 14, 2014

I'm 33 weeks pregnant right now, and spent a lot of time hovering at that "chunky or pregnant?" stage. I've found that, for me at least, maternity pants have been way way more important than any other maternity-specific clothes. Find a pair of maternity jeans that fit you reasonably well, and most shirts will almost immediately look and feel better. Even some of the tops that I felt chubby in pre-pregnancy actually look better on me with my maternity jeans. I prefer the kind with elastic panels on the sides; the full belly panels give me an unfortunate double-muffin-top.

Once you've found some pants you like, you can get by for quite a while with non-maternity shirts, provided they're long enough (hip/crotch length is ideal) and either loose and flowy or super-stretchy. The longer and stretchier they are, the further into your pregnancy they'll take you. The regular non-maternity tamis from Old Navy are pretty good; I'm wearing one of my pre-pregnancy tamis right now. (Maternity shirt-wise, I can vouch for the Liz Lange Target tank tops. They're quite nice and sturdy for the price, and don't look like maternity shirts.)

I nth maxi skirts/dresses and elastic-waist skirts in general, especially for summer. Stretchy skirts are great because you can wear them higher or lower as you grow. The wider the waistband, the more comfortable they'll be.

I also agree about cardigans. Don't bother with maternity-specific cardigans, just buy your regular size and wear them open. Scarves and chunky necklaces are also your friends.

Any tops or dresses with ruching or obvious extra space in the belly will be great when you're huge, but will look kind of sad if you don't have enough bump to fill them out. Buy them if and when you need them, but be aware they'll have the shortest shelf life of all.

Find some local pregnancy/new-parent meetup groups or message boards. In addition to the invaluable camaraderie, advice, and support they can provide, there may be members looking to offload some of their maternity clothes for free or cheap - easier than secondhand stores or eBay. Having a baby often involves a lot of products that you'll only need for a few months, so many parents are happy to sell, loan, or give away things they no longer use.

And only buy things as you need them. It's more of a pain in the ass that way, but your body's going to be doing its own thing for the next several months, and you can't really predict what will happen. Some women change bra size more than once over the course of their pregnancy, some women stay the same until delivery. I expected to get huge quickly, but I haven't...yet. I have no idea what my postpartum body will be like, and dressing for that is the last of my worries anyway.

posted by Metroid Baby at 9:33 PM on June 14, 2014

Coming in to recommend Hot Milk, a New Zealand bra company that makes the best maternity bras ever in larger sizes. I have kept on wearing mine post pregnancy and post breastfeeding as regular bras because they are so damn comfortable and pretty. You can get a range of sizes and they have really good multiple snaps at the back to fit a decent weight gain/loss before needing to go up or down a size. I had tried Marks & Spencers and some other brands - Triumph I think? that our local stores carried, but my sister sent me one of these to try and I ended up ordering a bunch immediately.

Leggings plus cheap maxi dresses that you put money into hemming. Get them from a regular store like Uniqlo or whatever is reasonably cheap, and if you can get sleeveless and add a cardigan or jacket, that's more comfortable to wear. Then as your bump increases, get the back hem raised so the hems hang evenly. The maxi-dress will end up going from calf length to above the knees with the hem changes, so you add cheap-o leggings that you cut the wrist band off and just roll under or over the bump as you prefer and bam, flattering and fitting. That's what a lawyer friend did when super pregnant and she hated the idea of paying for maternity outfits she'd wear only for a while, but she needed to look polished.
posted by viggorlijah at 10:44 PM on June 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you're planning to breastfeed for a longish time, buy shirts with button rows all the way down, and pyjamas with button rows.
posted by Omnomnom at 12:39 AM on June 15, 2014

As far as cardigans go, I highly recommend this style from Target. I practically lived in the long sleeve version during my recent pregnancy. It's well made for the price, and very flattering.
posted by bizzyb at 5:32 AM on June 15, 2014

I had a couple of 'big shirts' that I wore a lot in pregnancy and after. Easy to nurse in when we were not at home. I usually wore a loose tshirt underneath.
posted by theora55 at 8:00 AM on June 15, 2014

I had zero luck with maxi dresses and skirts while pregnant - they seemed to cling to all the wrong areas but not the bump, and looked anything but chic. I was bummed because everyone swears by them, but they didn't work for me at all - so don't be disappointed if they don't work for you either.

Seconding the recommendation to plan for nursing/pumping now - I pretty much lived in Target's nursing camis for months after my daughter's birth and started wearing them again in the first trimester of my second pregnancy. They were supportive enough that I could get away without wearing a nursing bra as well, as long as I wore nursing pads inside them to hide Giant Projection Nipples, and they were way more comfortable since they don't have an underwire. Stretchy, low-cut v-neck or official nursing tops over them was an easy way to dress myself that looked professional and up to date, but still allowed easy access for pumping at work.

Generally "they" say that your immediate post-partum body will be similar to your body at 5 months pregnant. This was true for me, so don't make the mistake I did of buying only under-the-belly pants, which I preferred - I had an unplanned c-section, and anything that hit remotely at the scar line hurt for weeks. During that time, I had only one pair of pants with a waistband that could go high enough to not press on it, and I lived in them.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 8:34 AM on June 15, 2014

I think maternity apparel is a huge racket, particularly once you get past size 12 or so.

I'm about a size 20. I never purchased a single article of specific "maternity" clothing during my pregnancy, particularly not those awful fake-jeans-with-belly-band garments.

Instead, I pretty much lived in J Jill's Wearever Collection, one size up from my regular size. It's soft and stretch, and carried me through all but about the last 3 weeks of my pregnancy, plus was comfortable for the time post-partum as I started to get back to my regular shape.
posted by anastasiav at 9:09 AM on June 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thanks again! I don't mind having some cheaper clothes, (bizzyb, that sweater is one of the very few items of clothing I bought in the last year!) but I do like to have my solid t-shirts, tanks and simple pants be from higher-quality stores so I can buy them every 3-4 years rather than 1-2x per year. It looks like J Jill is a new place to look for those things.

I also figured out I'm not actually plus sized yet, but that all the stores I've been going to in town just don't carry anything over a 14 on the bottom, if even that. Jerks.
posted by ohisee at 1:55 PM on June 15, 2014

I ended up with a lot of JJill, also, and Target nursing tanks. I definitely needed maternity t-shirts, though, because nothing else worked. Also, depending on how you carry, some things might just not work on you. Ex: I never could wear under-the-belly pants because they just wouldn't stay up. If it's possible, only buy ahead if you're sure you can return it.

Here's the one thing I wish I'd realized but didn't when trying to buy maternity clothes: My entire ribcage expanded by a size. It wasn't just boob growth that made my shirt size go up. So, even though all of the on-line size things said, "Buy your regular size!" that never worked.

The problem with that? Once I'd had the baby and my bones squeezed themselves back together, most of my pregnancy clothes, including some JJill skirts, were too big to wear. So some things I'd planned to wear post-partum just fell off of me.

No idea if this is a common problem, but boy do I wish I'd known that. Happy shopping!
posted by orange (sherbet) rabbit at 4:11 PM on June 15, 2014

Consignment stores that have good maternity sections: Sweetpea's, Piccolina, and Bella Stella.

posted by spec80 at 7:28 PM on June 15, 2014

Does your area Goodwill have an actual maternity section? I understand the frustration of hunting through Goodwill, but most stores do have a very small rack of "maternity" near the dresses and coats. For me this was really hit or miss, but since it's such a small section, if there's a store or two in your area you can just make a point to run in maybe once a week and glance over that particular section of rack for anything nice, and then run right back out if you don't see anything. Of course your mileage may vary if you feel up to this, but I did it during my second pregnancy and wished I had during my first because I found a lot of cute DIRT CHEAP stuff.

N'thing the fact that maternity clothes should be basically considered disposable, and should not cost a lot; but of course you still want to feel nice and put-together (and not like you're wearing the same shirt every day). I would go for lots of knits and stretchy stuff, low necklines as mentioned above if you plan to breastfeed. Knit skirts with wide fold-over waistbands are amazing. Try to find at least one nice pair of maternity jeans with lots of stretch (my thighs grew to like twice their normal size at the end, then shrunk smaller than pre-preg after the baby. Bodies are weird.) Old navy and Gap maternity (check the clearance) are awesome.
posted by celtalitha at 10:41 PM on June 15, 2014

This dress comes in XXL, is on sale, and would look adorable during and after pregnancy as well as allowing for nursing.

These coated stretch jeans are super stylish and $28 and available in sizes 14-20.

This is a knee-length black fold over skirt like I mentioned, available in XXL, for $18. The maxi is available in XL and only $12 (!) - these things STRETCH, I'd try it if you like maxis at all.

Here's a cute zip-front jacket (all sizes) and here is a racer back tank for under.

Those are the best items I saw on a quick glance-over, that I would buy if I were pregnant again. The stiff cottony or bulky or empire-wasted stuff you do NOT want. Happy hunting!!
posted by celtalitha at 10:55 PM on June 15, 2014

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