Saturday, November 8, 2008

Plus-Sized Maternity Clothing Manifesto

Thanks to everyone who commented on my previous post about maternity clothing in women of size. I just wanted to add a few more comments.

First, people tend to fall into 2 camps about maternity clothing in plus-sizes. Some would never spend that money for clothing you only wear for a few months, or want to spend as little as possible on it. Others fervently want to wear maternity-specific clothing instead of just larger sizes because it's fitted differently and they think you look/are perceived better as a fat person when you wear maternity-specific clothing.

I say there's room for both points of view. I personally really really wanted maternity clothes so people knew I was pregnant as well as fat. I didn't want to just look fatter....not that I had a problem with being fat, just that I wanted people to GET that fat people actually got pregnant too, you know? I also wanted them to know and get excited with me that there was a little baby inside there!! It's fun to share the joy.

But I am also quite pragmatic and had to consider things like finances very carefully because my husband was laid off from his job right after we found out we were pregnant. Even had I had access to all the online maternity fashion then, could I have afforded a lot of it, just for a few months? Probably not so much. But I would have gotten a few pieces....especially so I could look as professional as possible for my job while I had it.

Well, it's all moot because I didn't have any choice in that first pregnancy. As I mentioned before, I couldn't find ANY maternity clothing in my size at all. None. So I made do as best I could.

But now I've had four pregnancies, three after the internet became available, and my financial situation improved over time. So what did I do for the other three pregnancies?

Plus-Sized Maternity Clothing, Post-Internet

Frankly, I did a combination of both approaches. In each successive pregnancy, I bought a few specific maternity-related tops for the "beached whale" end-of-pregnancy phase, and I enjoyed the hell out of actually having maternity-specific clothing. Some of it was cuter than others (and I look at some of what is available now and lament it wasn't available then!), but still, even the less-flattering things beat the skanky "big men's tee" hands-down.

However, I didn't have enough money to buy an all-maternity wardrobe, so I also re-used the empire-waist tops and jumpers from the first pregnancy. I did buy one pair of maternity pants for the last couple of months, but for the most part, I just used non-maternity stretchy knit pants with an elastic waist and had a couple of different sizes available.

Babydoll, empire waist, and trapeze tops from mail-order clothing companies tend to work like maternity tops, so I ordered a couple more of these in bright, bold colors. And because by then I was at home with other kids and didn't have to have a professional wardrobe, I did use men's large potbelly-friendly t-shirts at times too (but only for schlepping around the house!).

So for the most part, because money was never easy with me not working outside the home, I mostly did without a lot of maternity-specific clothing. However, I have to say, I really really enjoyed having a few maternity-specific items by the last couple of months of pregnancy, stuff that really WAS designed for a pregnancy belly.

You really do look better with well-designed maternity-specific stuff, trust me. You deserve to have at least a few of these, even if you are pinching pennies.

Plus-Sized Maternity Only For Mid-Sized Fatties?

However, I do have to point out that most of the internet options I eventually found were for sizes 16-22, with a few 24s if you really searched hard. I usually wear size 24 or 26/28, so it was not so easy to find maternity wear in those sizes, even with the internet.

Again, it seems to go back to the belief that fat women don't have sex, especially larger-sized fat women.....the fashion industry might just be able to bring themselves to believe that middle-sized fat women actually had sex and could get pregnant, but not that larger-sized fat women have sex or could get pregnant. (Augh!)

So I have to send a shout-out to Charlotte at Baby Becoming. She was one of the first (and only) companies to specialize in maternity clothes for a wider variety of plus sizes. She had maternity clothes up to 5-7x. She also provided a lot of telephone and internet love and support for pregnant women of size. Alas, her website seems to be down and I'm not sure she's in business any longer, but the whole plus-size maternity industry owes her a giant word of thanks.

For supersized women (5x or more) who are pregnant, there aren't a lot of maternity-specific options out there anymore. One thing that works for some women is to order from companies that specialize in supersized clothing, and order styles (like empire-waist dresses etc.) that tend to work with pregnancy bellies. Since most supersized women carry a little smaller anyhow, this usually works.....but I would still advocate that maternity companies consider adding a couple of items on the larger end of sizing, or that companies that specialize in supersizes add a couple of maternity-specific items to their lines as well. Supersized women deserve cute maternity clothes too!

A Few Sample Plus-Size Maternity Companies

I also have to send kudos to J.C. Penney, whose mail-0rder catalogue carried plus-size maternity long before most other companies did. They were the very first place I found plus-sized maternity wear, and I actually could have bought maternity clothes from them in that first pregnancy, had I only known they carried them back then.

Another plus is that they do tend to be fairly reasonably priced compared to many companies, although on the downside, their stylings tend to be a bit bland. But overall, this is a wide-reaching, good option for women of size, and they were one of the first companies to really reach out to this market niche. Bravo to them for recognizing and meeting this need.

One piece of good news is that some companies that didn't carry plus-size maternity in the past now seem to be carrying it....companies like Motherhood Maternity, Old Navy, etc. Yay!! More choice is good! And some of the stuff I see now is reasonably cute too, instead of the usual old caftan and tent options.

Lane Bryant now has online ordering for maternity-specific clothing, and some of it is even relatively cute. Although I have many issues with Lane Bryant as a company, it does remain a very accessible option for many women. So there's that choice as well.

One place to start searching for plus-size maternity clothes is, because they search a bunch of different companies for clothes suitable for pregnant big moms, and then list them (complete with pictures and links) all at one site. That's pretty handy. However, I was disappointed to notice most sizes still only go up to about a 3x. Sometimes they list a piece as going up to larger sizes, but when you follow the link, the only sizes available are much smaller. Hopefully, the size range that is regularly available will get expanded over time....but unfortunately, that's up to the various designers and retailers, not the websites that organize the information. All we can do is keep reminding the designers and retailers that there is a maternity market in larger sizes.

Maternity Wardrobe on a Budget

These companies are all well and great, but what if you are really short on cash? A maternity-specific wardrobe can cost a pretty penny. What do you do if you don't have many pennies?

Again, most women of size don't have to have an elaborate maternity-related wardrobe. A few key maternity shirts and pants for those last beached-whale months are helpful, but for most of the pregnancy, you can really get by without a lot of maternity stuff.

Of course, a lot depends on your particular build. Women who are on the smaller side of plus-sized tend to need a lot more maternity stuff, whereas supersized women tend not to need much maternity stuff at all. Women who are apple-shaped tend to need more maternity stuff because they already have more in the middle, so they need a maternity cut to allow for a pregnancy belly too. Women who are busty on top tend not to need as much maternity stuff because they already buy a bit bigger up-top, so then there's more room for expanding baby bellies underneath.

So you never know what you are going to need for sure; you may be surprised at how much you can "get by" with regular clothes you already own if you need to save money. I do think it's a good idea to have a few key maternity-related pieces to fall back on; a few maternity tops for near the end, maybe some maternity pants or skirts (especially for those on the smaller side of large). But if you need to save pennies, remember that a few key items are often enough to get by.

A really good option for getting some cheap maternity-specific clothing in plus-sizes is eBay. A lot of plus-sized women put their maternity clothing up for sale there, so it's a great way to get a bunch of pregnancy clothing cheaply.

And let me just put in a plug for donating your maternity clothing after you are sure you are done having children. You can sell it on eBay if you need the cash, but please, consider giving at least some of that plus-sized clothing to charities that serve women in need. They are chronically short of plus-sized maternity clothing, and often write to me via my website, looking for donations.

So please, sell on eBay if you wish to recoup some of your costs, but also consider donating a couple of things to these charities (some contact info available on my website). About half of pregnancies in this country are unplanned; imagine how hard it must be for really poor women of size to cope with an unexpected pregnancy and the accompanying maternity clothing needs. Pretty daunting stuff. Please consider helping out our less-advantaged sisters.

Women of Size in Other Countries

Here in United States, we now have some choices for plus-size maternity clothes. However, women of size in other countries often face very limited choices, as we did here not that long ago.

I do have sections on my maternity clothing FAQs that cover non-USA countries, although at this time it mostly covers only the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. Frankly, even this information is older now, so I'm sure that much of it needs updating anyhow. I would encourage women from these and other countries to email me via my website about choices available in your area (either new or updated info).

I'd also point out that there are a few companies that do utilize mail-order to various countries around the world, if you have the money to pursue that. And there is also information on my site about sewing your own maternity clothes, if sewing is among your skills.

Final Thoughts

It's fantastic that we live in the age of the internet and have so many more choices in plus-size clothing than we did before. One of the fashion categories that has particularly benefitted has been plus-sized maternity clothing.....and it's about damn time!

Even so, maternity lines and designers still seem to be ignorant that women over 3x get pregnant and need maternity clothing too. And although there is some stuff available in 4x or more, it's hard to find and choices are limited. Let's get more stuff available for women of all sizes! And cute stuff too, not just tents, thank you very much.

Do be aware that if you are on a budget, as a plus-sized woman you are not as likely to need as much maternity-specific clothing as an average-sized woman. You really don't have to spend a lot of money for maternity clothes if you don't want to or cannot afford to.

Depending on your body type and build, you may even be able to get by with very little specialty clothing during pregnancy.....if that's how you prefer to handle it. But being able to get by with less maternity clothing doesn't mean it shouldn't be available at all. The plus-size maternity option should be there for those who want it!

Also remember that even if you're on a budget, there are always options like consignment shops and eBay to help you find what you need for a lot cheaper than buying new. There are also many patterns available online for those who sew.

Finally, even if you can't afford much maternity wear, do try to find a few pieces (maternity-specific or not) that are bright and colorful and make you feel good about yourself. Don't hide in dark colors and tents, but find some pieces that make you look and feel fabulous.

Pregnancy changes your body in so many ways, and it's often also a time of big emotional changes too; pregnancy is challenging to the self-concept of most woman, regardless of size. Therefore, it's so important to do little things for yourself that help you feel good.

The top choices on my pregnancy "treat yourself" list are nice maternity clothing choices, pregnancy massages (even if it's only from your partner!), and long warm soaks in the tub. Ahhhh!

Indulge yourself!! Pamper yourself!! And start it off with clothing that makes you feel good.


Anonymous said...

As an extreme pear, >20 in. hip to waist difference, I found my pre-pregnancy pants finally fit right during the last 2 months!

Beth said...

FYI - Lane Bryant has discontinued their maternity line. Incredibly inconvenient. I'm so disappointed.

Jennifer said...

Here is a website I found with lots of cute stuff

Anonymous said...

Do not go to that link that "Jennifer" Posted. I went there and it said that my computer was now infected with a virus. That's very nice!