The maternity wear market is finally coming around to the fact that pregnant women want to look stylish, too.
Long resigned to oversized, shapeless dresses and pajama-like sets, brands are designing trend-forward clothes that resemble offerings at stores like Zara or J. Crew, aside from extra wiggle room. Some fast-fashion companies — including Asos, H&M and Topshop — have also begun selling their own maternity collections, contributing to a $12.6 billion market that is slated to grow to $16.9 billion by the end of 2022.
This shift can be partly attributed to a changing perception of pregnancy, said Julia Wang, head of digital content at The Bump, a pregnancy advice publication. “Women are proud to show their shape now; it’s no longer something to be hidden, but celebrated,” she said, comparing Princess Kate Middleton’s style to that of Princess Diana’s to prove her point: Despite being considered one of the most stylish women in the world, Diana was seen wearing muumuus and boxy skirts throughout her pregnancy. Kate, on the other hand, has relied on form-fitting dresses and skinny jeans, belly be damned.
A dress from Hatch Collection
Historically, the maternity selection has been “rather dull, with extremely limited choices,” said Nasiba Adilova, the founder of online childrenswear boutique The Tot. “The baby bump wasn’t celebrated the way that it is now.”
Women today are also far more likely to be working while pregnant, a reality that tends to warrant more polished clothing than the average nightgown. According to Wang, most of The Bump’s readers work right up to their delivery date, and 70 percent of them return to the workforce afterward. (The publications saw 8.5 million unique views in September, per Google Analytics.)
This is precisely why Dorie Smith and Emelyn Northway, the co-founders of the women’s workwear brand Of Mercer, have decided to launch three maternity-specific dresses later this month. “Our mission has always been to outfit the professional woman throughout all aspects of her day and her career, but we saw we were not serving her in a key part of her life: during and post-pregnancy,” explained Smith.
As many Of Mercer customers also work up to their due dates, and have told them they struggle with body confidence once they return, Smith and Northway decided to focus on pieces they could wear from the pre- to postpartum period (all of which are made nursing-friendly, with hidden zippers and snaps around the chest).
A top from Isabella Oliver
“It’s not practical for a woman to have to invest in pieces that only work for a short part of such a large life change,” said Smith. The maternity dresses retail for under $200 each, which is on par with Of Mercer’s larger collection.
Ariane Goldman, the founder of Hatch Collection, agreed. Six years ago, while pregnant with her first child, she found herself similarly frustrated by the market. “I was buying regular clothing a few sizes too big and wearing vintage mumus,” she said, adding that what she did find for pregnant women was disposable at best.
She launched Hatch in 2011 to help solve this problem, designing styles that nodded toward trends but were also versatile enough to be worn post-pregnancy. The resulting dresses, jumpsuits, trench coats and more (priced from around $50-$400) would not look out of place as part of a non-maternity brand.
Katherine Power, the co-founder and CEO of Clique Media Group, cited Hatch as one of her favorites during her recent pregnancy. “It’s about taking non-maternity items and altering them just slightly to fit the pregnant body,” she said. “Women want their style to remain consistent during pregnancy.” Celebrities like Jessica Alba and Brooklyn Decker are also fans.
One thing Hatch does well that other brands could learn from, according to Wang, is market the longevity inherent to their pieces. “It’s all about how you’d want to wear these pieces post-birth as well,” she said. Their slogan itself reads “For before, during and after,” while copy across the site further emphasizes the fact, with statements like, “Perfect pieces for now and later,” and “Every comfort. Every mood. Every day.” Models on the site range in appearance from not pregnant to 9-months in.
An image from Hatch Collection’s Instagram
There’s work left to do, of course.
According to Wang, many of these brands still need to tweak their operational capabilities to cater to today’s Amazon-fueled consumer. Free shipping and returns processes would be greatly appreciated, compared to the pricey and slow options many of these companies have in place. Hatch, for instance, charges $10 for U.S. ground shipping alone, and $50 for international. Returns must be back within 10 days for a refund. Isabella Oliver only offers free U.S. shipping for orders that exceed $89 and charges up to $80 for packages sent internationally.
A more seamless mobile shopping experience wouldn’t hurt either, said Wang, ideally provided through an app, which younger parents are partial to. In fact, 80 percent of The Bump’s expectant parent readers are using its app, in lieu of the website, she pointed out. None of the brands mentioned, however, have one of their own.
Everyone we spoke to also noted that sustainable and ethically-made maternity wear is still few and far between.
“Millennial moms have a high awareness for safety, and what they’re putting in and on their bodies, and they want to do the best for themselves and their child,” Wang pointed out.
Many of the materials, fabrics and dyes that are used do not fall under best practices for environmental or personal safety, argued Adilova. “Women are particularly vulnerable to toxins and chemical exposure when they are pregnant,” she noted. “They also have a little life growing inside of them that’s susceptible.”
It wouldn’t hurt non-maternity brands to offer more clothing for pregnant women, too, said Smith, of Of Mercer. The selection of denim-focused brands like DL 1961 and J Brand is slim. “It’s a shame,” she said. “I’d rather just stick with brands I know and trust.”