How to Get Dressed If You’re Pregnant (But Hate Maternity Clothes)

Does pregnancy negate your personal style? No – but expect to work harder to find it

11.15.17

I am almost six and a half months pregnant and my belly button is the size of a green olive. Look carefully and you can spy that creepy little fucker through my purple dress. My nipples are back-up dancers in Dante’s inferno, I split a pair of Zara tracksuit bottoms neat down the butt-crack last week and my waist has taken on the solidity of Miss Trunchbull.

Watching my body change has been a revelation, if not an always comfortable one, both physically and psychologically, and saying goodbye to 90% of my wardrobe hasn’t been easy. “I’ll just wear the larger bits in my wardrobe” you might say (as I did), quite casually, before you are pregnant. Yeah, good luck with that. The larger things become the smaller things quicker than you can sling one newly ginormous boob over your shoulder.

With all that in mind, I ask you, as I have been asking of myself with near desperation: What the fuck do you wear, especially if you hate maternity wear?

The roster of maternity brands out there have never appealed to me and did not suddenly become more appealing when pregnant. The default pregnancy style seems to be jersey wrap dresses and skinny jeans worn with cardigans, and neither is a look that’s ever suited me. (My mother, incidentally, is convinced that we should start a maternity line together “and make a million.”)

But the thing is, you need to shop. Anyone who says “I just didn’t buy anything when I was pregnant” is lying. You will need new bras (I recommend Spanx crop tops), maternity tights that cater to a bump (Falke, ASOS), new leggings (H&M), even new pajamas (Bodas, cotton, largest size). You’ll need new blouses, new dresses, new jeans and most likely, a new coat — if you want it do up.

Of course, it’s not all bad. Topshop maternity jeans are super comfortable and flattering. H&M Mama is great for basics. Maternity brand Isabella Oliver is good for black trousers and cotton shirts that tie above your bump, and Hatch is cute, albeit quite expensive, for jumpsuits. But beyond that, I’ve found little in maternity wear that resonates with my sartorial impulses.

It’s not even like I’m trying to create Major Lewks on a daily basis. The phrase “styling the bump” makes me shudder; my bump isn’t some new, cute accessory. I waited six months to put any kind of picture on Instagram for exactly that reason. I just want to work around it, in a way that feels accommodating and comfortable and me. I’ve worked really hard (genuinely) to get to a place of comfort in my daily dressing and hopefully, it will help some of you guys, too.

Here’s how I’ve shopped on a budget, on the cautious side (nothing too zany), in high street “non-maternity wear” stores, while looking for pieces that fit the top half of my body. (Though I’m an advocate of slow fashion, I’ve banned myself from investment purchases right now because my body is changing so quickly.) That said, the majority of my bottom-half closet: full-on maternity clothes.

Important side note: I write all this with a slim woman’s privilege. Most high street stores go up to a size 12-14, max, which makes “sizing up” impossible for some women. It’s yet another reason why that the paltry maternity offering on the market — and high street fashion’s non-inclusive sizing — irks me so much.

Here’s a download of tips garnered from my second trimester:

+ Large, soft sweaters. This is the only category I have invested in. I spend much more time at home now and like to be cozy whilst nesting (it’s a thing). These will fit me later, sans bump, too. Raey does the most incredible oversize polonecks (I have a navy one and I’m coveting the cream Aran one), and ethical cashmere brand Mandkhai does the softest ribbed knits. Other favorites include this, ahem, “Dries-inspired” one by H&M and an ALEXACHUNG sweater.

+ Oversize striped shirts (I already had a roster of vintage ones, but I added a white one from the new, well-priced shirting brand WNU, started by Tatler jewellery editor Pip Durrell), worn untucked with leggings.

+ Stretchy dresses. My most useful buys have included two ribbed dresses — a navy one from Free People and a black one from H&M — and this purple, strategically-draped jersey dress from H&M. If ever there was proof that a bumps’ silhouette is everything during pregnancy, check out the difference between my bump front-on and side-one, in this purple dress. I would never typically gravitate toward anything tight, purple, or Balenciaga-inspired, but at a certain stage of pregnancy, swathing the bump didn’t flatter my body. I had to outline it. I also love the Lucy dress by Rixo, with its tactical belly-ruching.

+ Coat-wise, I’ve lived in an oversize Maje bomber and my Topshop trench, which was a little large when I bought it back in May but is perfect now that I’m a denser moving object.

+ Longline blouses, worn with a statement blazer, like this gorgeously autumnal velvet Rika one.

+ A tube skirt. Again, I’d never gravitate toward this as a non-pregnatus. But now I wear this ribbed Sportmax one every other day.

+ Lastly, accessories will become your BFF. They are the only thing you cannot grow out of. These Nina Kastens earrings and my ones from Roxanne Assoulin provide me with micro joy. Due to chronic lower back pain, heels are largely off the agenda unless they’re low, so I’ve got these Maje Derbies on my shopping list.

The outfits you see here are ones I have on repeat. I have shrink wrapped 90% of my wardrobe into dense, misshapen bricks because I now fit so little of it. And you know what? I can now say that while my body, what with the stomach aches, gas, insomnia and other varying symptoms (more on that, soon), is a league unto its own, foraging for a fresh new style and curating a capsule wardrobe has been liberating.

Photos by Frances Davison.

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  • Charlie

    Congratulations!!! This baby is going to be so blessed with a mum who uses phrases such as: “my waist has taken on the solidity of Miss Trunchbull”! I love #2 and #3 not only because of the colour combination and Rosie earrings but also how you hold your bump.

    • Pandora Sykes

      I had just had lunch and actually feared that it MIGHT FALL OFF

      • Kiks

        You are hilarious. I’m so happy you’re bringing what is sure to be a wonderful child into this world.

        • Pandora Sykes

          she could be terrible. We could put her back again. But if we do, she’s going in my husband this time

          • Kiks

            that’s fair.

  • Olivia Lauren Hawk Moore

    Very much appreciate that important side note… while I love all of this advice, I sit on the heavier side already and likely won’t be able to size up at places like H&M. It really felt nice to have someone think about that

    • Pandora Sykes

      I feel for you; it shouldn’t be the case. My sister is a US 14 and she finds the high street a MOST inhospitable place.

    • allen grunden

      My wife and dI have been married for 11 years now, but she developed depression, anxiety, and OCD; making our life really difficult. I have been acting as father and mother for over a year now for she has grown fear to do anything at all. I have tried so hard to keep her, my 2 children, and myself up, but the weight of the situation finally took me down. I went into a panic/anxiety attack and scared my children with my actions. Since then, she told me to leave our home and I have been living with my sister. I love my wife and children so much, but I failed them. I couldn’t live my life without them. all hope was lost to me before i came across the help doctor [prayerstosavemarriage01@gmail.com] who i confided in, i told him my long story and he helped me regain back my lover with his prayers. if you have any marriage or relationship problems email the help doctor 🙂

  • All my favorite people are pregnant!! You look fantastic Pandora, you actually make we want to be pregnant

    • Leandra Medine

      that’s such a nice thing to say to someone!!

    • Pandora Sykes

      Ahhhhh you lovely girl

  • Jolanda van der Wagt

    I regocnise your discomfort with maternity wear. I really tried my best when I was pregnant and then the third trimester came along and I just stopped dressing myself all together.
    It was just getting too emotional in the mornings (that, and even maternity stuff did not fit me anymore, hiphiphooray for holding water like a freaking camel). I locked away my camera and went into hibernation mode until after the pregnancy (eventhough hibernation in august/september is not really a thing, it worked for me). Had a beautifull daughter, and moved on. Great tips though! If I may ever get pregnant again, I am hoping the days that it shows will be in the winter so I can try them out myself.

  • Ania Nic

    I came up with similar ideas for pregnancy wardrobe as Pandora.

    One more tip: a large scarf or a shawl wrapped over shoulders or neck paired with a long cardigan. I wore them with a thin belt above the bum and leggins, which made me feel both comfortable and sophisticated.

    Shawls are my favorite accessory, so I felt like myself even when the bum was really large! I made the whole 40 weeks without maternity clothes, except from tights and a pair of jeans, without compromising my style. Last 6 weeks were most challenging (it was September/October) and then I wrapped my body in shawls and loose cardigans.

    • Pandora Sykes

      Yes! Shawls! In agreement.

  • Congratulations, Pandora! I follow you on Instagram and I didn’t realize it, am I a bad/superficial follower?

    • Pandora Sykes

      ha ha no! I haven’t really put much up

  • Samantha H

    I love the styling and silhouettes of all this, but some of the pieces cost as much as a full week of daycare! I am super excited to have maternity covered here on MR (I’m about the same amount of weeks pregnant as Leandra) but more affordable fashions need attention too! Like, how can we style the affordable stuff in a way to look great?

    • Pandora Sykes

      Hey Samantha, the key pieces – the purple dress, the trench, the burgundy boots, the leggings – are high street (or in the shirt’s case, a £5 vintage number.) I always try and keep that front of mind. As I say in the piece, H&M, Topshop, Warehouse, Isabella Oliver, are all great!

      • Samantha H

        Thanks for the reply! I am (wasn’t) familiar with High Street. The things i clicked on were the blazer and the tube dress and got sticker shock! I have been in full on crack down on the budget mode when faced with day care costs, so I have been shopping at Old Navy and gotten some hand me downs which i have been able to style in a decent manner. 🙂

        • Amy

          FYI! High street is just British-speak for fast fashion/regular old stores like H&M, Zara, Gap, etc.

          • Samantha H

            aaaand you learn something new every day 🙂 thanks for the translation.

    • nell

      I’m currently 33 weeks pregnant and can’t say enough good things about ASOS maternity — really the only maternity clothes I’ve found that were quite affordable and also felt age appropriate and “me” (seriously, what is with the fusty florals and everything in shades of gray and blush…. yech). Their basics like tees and leggings are great too.

  • JB

    My fave: “The larger things become the smaller things quicker than you can sling one newly ginormous boob over your shoulder.” YES YES YES. I’m 5 and a half months pregnant and it’s not the bump that’s the biggest problem right now….it’s these suddenly huge knockers!! I’m 5’2 and petite. With the bump, the newly huge boobs, and a short torso, I’m in this stage where people are wondering if I’m pregnant or have just eaten too many burritos lately.

    I totally agree with you on all of these tips. I feel lucky to be at the height of my pregnancy during fall/winter because the over sized sweater/sweater dress/tunic look over tights really suits my pregnant body best. I’ve never been one to wear a lot of dress and skirts, but I’ve definitely had to transition over to them during this stage in my life. And I have completely abandoned shopping at maternity sections of department stores. They are the saddest state of affairs. If you’re pregnant, you better prepare yourself because it is seriously depressing.

    You must do something about this, Pandora! Time to start the maternity line! Wishing you love and light during the last few months of your pregnancy. xo

  • Just clicked through on the LK Bennett boots and said ‘THEY’RE REDUCED!’ apropos of nothing, out loud at my desk.
    La Femme | Unofficially the best lifestyle blog ever

  • Pandora, you look FAB as always. Now, I’ll have to add “get pregnant” to my list of sartorial challenges to blog about. (I’m kidding)

  • Harling Ross

    Those Nina Kastens earrings are such an eye treat

  • Liv Anderson

    Thank you! I’m 12 weeks pregnant and going through a style crisis. I didn’t think my style would be so hard to find while growing out. I had the same mentality of not buying much and working with the oversized part of my closet, but I’m surprised by how much my body has dictated what I do/don’t want to wear. Example: because of the nausea these last 6 weeks, I can’t wear anything with a waist because of the pressure on my stomach. There goes all of my pants!

    These tips are super helpful and it’s wonderful to know others are in the same (large) boat.

  • Felix Berger

    but the trash can as background…..does great for contrast I admit.

  • SLB

    At 37 weeks, I am struggling with the realization that I still will not be able to wear a lot of my pre-pregnancy clothing after the baby is born because there is no easy boob access. Vintage dresses with buttons up the back and turtle neck jumpsuits are not conducive to easy and/or public breastfeeding. I wish that I had purchased much of my pregnancy wardrobe with feeding in mind so that I could continue to wear certain pieces after the baby is born. Instead, I have found myself putting together a “postpartum” wardrobe that allows for fluctuating breast size and some coverage around the belly while things (HOPEFULLY) work on getting back to the way they were.

    • Yes, its a tough reality shift that I had as well (my son is 8 months now), but the time really does go quickly and you’ll be back in your favorite dresses again soon enough. With practice you’ll also get better at working with not-super easy access tops, so don’t be too discouraged at first. And congrats!

    • Stephanie

      Yep! If you plan on breastfeeding your “4th trimester” wardrobe will need to be easy to access the breasts. My daughter is 8mos old and I still look at some of my pre-baby pieces and think “nope, not till she’s weaned.”

    • Kiki

      So so true SLB! Omg i had no idea the postpartum wardrobe was going to be needed. My son is 16 months, and I swear I live on button down shirts.

    • Basil

      Yup – I’m 39 weeks with my second (in 2 years. I had a very short window in which to wear normal clothes) and postpartum dressing really threw me. What I went for was nursing camisoles underneath, and then a shirt I could just lift up on top (the camisole hid my belly, and I didn’t feel as exposed as when unbuttoning a shirt / dress).

      I’m at the stage now where my wardrobe is literally reduced to three items which I am SO BORED with, but they’re all that fit.

      What I would also recommend for the third trimester and after is slip on shoes. Reaching my feet and putting on shoes is … let’s go with “challenging” right now, and after the baby arrives it’s way easier to have shoes you can just slip on (without using your hands), while holding baby + paraphernalia

    • Heather Baringer Carp

      I like the brand Loyal Hana for post-baby clothing that has easy boob access. Most of their clothes don’t appeal to me because of the feel of the polyester fabrics they use. However, I lived in the Marni jumpsuit for the first four months after babe #1 was born and now that I’m pregnant with baby #2, I can still rock it at 28 weeks. Some of their polys are better than others and they have a great return policy, so try some things out!

  • Holland Kennedy

    fab!!

  • looking absolutely gorgeous on all (especially the second) photos!

  • Kelly

    This is the best. Pre-pregnancy, my style was never form-fitting, but you nailed it with the defined bump comment… It looks so much better when it is an obvious baby bump, vs. the alternative. Thanks Pandora for your honest commentary, I’m 6.5 months along as well and am glad for the like-minded commentary on the style front.

  • Bernadette Aylward

    I’ll put in a plug for asking for help! while dressing yourself is such a personal thing, you might ask a mom or sister or friend to shop with/for you. while visiting my sister before baby came, my mom and I went a little wild in the maternity store at the nearby mall. picked out a couple tops and one nice-ish dress that were similar to her style already. this might not work for everyone but my mom loves to give a gift. I’ll say it’s more fun to buy tiny baby clothes (they’re so cute!!) but I think it was a help to get some clothes for mom-to-be.

  • Suzan

    I wouldn’t have the budget for it and I also don’t plan on getting pregnant ever, but I do really love the aesthetic of maternity brand Storq by Courtney Klein. https://storq.com/collections/all
    Beautiful basics (but not too basic, for example the kaftan and jumpsuit), which you can wear after pregnancy (and also for nursing often) as well. I also love their no-nonsense and relaxed approach.
    I think this brand is as sustainable/slow as maternity fashion gets.

    • I wore the Storq skirt nonstop while pregnant. Pandora mentions a tube skirt, and I personally recommend the Storq one. Super thick and soft and really cute with sweaters or fun cropped tops (Zara has a bunch) for dressier events. It also still looks brand new- so it wears well.

    • JB

      Wearing the Storq dress right now!! Love the “bundle” so far.

  • Stephanie

    Oh pregnancy dressing is such a challenge! I was one of those lucky ones who had a belly only v. full body pregnancy so sizing up didn’t really work for me, it just looked like I was trying to wear my big sister’s clothes. I ended up getting relatively non-inspiring clothes from Target, Old Navy, and Destination Maternity. Downside to that strategy? That’s where everyone gets their maternity clothes so you all end up wearing the same thing!

  • nell

    I have not found “dressing the bump” to be much fun because I generally try (operative word!) to be a mindful consumer and with maternity you end up either buying fast fashion (Pandora is right, it’s unavoidable) or things you will wear for a few months, max. Definitely have relied on ASOS and H&M but I’ve been going used or hand-me-down for as much as I can — I have found ThredUp is okay for work basics etc. and found some nice things in local maternity+baby consignment stores. A few of my favorite things were dirt cheap in LeTote’s end-of-season sale — they are a clothing rental service but sell the rental stuff off at the end of each season. I have not tried LeTote’s rental boxes but I know people who’ve been really pleased (and now that I am fitting into about 10% of my wardrobe the idea of being sent a box of stuff that actually fits is pretty appealing.) Also, borrow stuff from friends!

  • Harley

    Oh woaah I’ve been looking for an article like this since I’m pregnant and couldn’t find anything inspiring like this! I understand comfort for maternity clothes, but still want to stay me. And I really like the part “my bump isn’t some new, cute accessory!” 🙌🙌 so true! Everyone just wants to see and TOUCH the belly, whaaat?! Hahahahaha, I’ll start rubbing peoples belly from now on, see if they like it!! Not to forget those who think you trying to hide your belly by wearing oversized when you’re actually wearing those clothes before getting pregnant! Anyway, thank you for the styling tips and specially for the alternative to maternity clothes.

  • Thank you thank you thank you for finally writing this!!!

  • Ashley Jardine

    Urgh, totally feel you. I’ve spent as much time in the post office over the last month sending back online orders as I did hunched over the toilet circa 8 weeks. Let me know when you start that maternity line—I’m in.

  • Emily Crittenden

    Huge congrats on that baby. I got through both my pregnancies with a few Hatch dresses and pants, Target maternity tees, and a general lowering of all my standards. The one thing I wanted to do but never did was make this tshirt that would be perfect for months 3-5 when it’s hard to dress because you’re in belly limbo… https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/6eb1db5c20861a279a13e5aa47d7bf2cf8c59ff1365fc9f0944e96c10ad945b9.jpg

  • Emily Brown

    I wish the “how to get dressed” was also literal because I have fallen over too many times to count while trying to put on pants with a huge (twin) baby bump. Very humbling.

  • Gene Day

    I found “sizing up” didn’t work very well because regular clothes are cut for a different shape, pregnant is not the same as bigger. Plus your ribs widen and good luck fitting any coats, or rings, or boots (I put on a ton of weight and retained a LOT of water) …ugh

  • Ashley Roxanne

    So so thankful someone mentioned the size thing. Most of the time when I read fashion related pregnancy articles I can’t roll my eyes enough. Like cool, so glad you’re still able to fit into that medium dress from wherever. That hasn’t been me since forever so that helps me none. I am already a US 10/12 so I’m basically chewing my fingernails down to stumps wondering what the eff I’m going to do if I’m ever pregnant. Why can’t someone finally just create something cool for a range of pregnancy sizes? I love the items you’ve chosen though and honestly I’m probably going to click on several of them right now and purchase for my very not pregnant self.

  • Kiki

    This is awesome 👏 I love your personal style. When I was pregnant in 2016 I had so much fun getting new clothes that I would have never glanced at without a belly. It was quite liberating. I actually thought that there were so many options – Pea in the Pod was my favorite go- to. Along with Hatch, although their quality was disappointing for the price. If you plan on breastfeeding – be warned, nursing friendly clothes are the real struggle. I haven’t worn a high neckline without buttons in over a year!

  • Mun

    Great advice 🙂

  • Charlotte Ferguson

    Hoping I’m going to need this intel soon 😊 N.PEAL also do amazing cashmere side split jumpers for about half the price.

  • COS is AMAAAZING for non-maternity maternity wear. Since most of the silhouettes are loose and flowy or boxy, they work with a bump AND you can still wear them after. I only bought ONE actual “maternity” piece (leggings) because I hated the idea of buying and never wearing again. I was pregnant in summer, so bought a lot of loose dressed and sought out pants with elastics. I can still wear pretty much everything I bought.

    The next shopping trip will be for clothes that make breastfeeding accessible if you plan to breastfeed because those dedicated options are also awfulllll. I could no longer wear my dresses unless they had a verrrry low neckline and shirts had to be button down or I just had to be wearing a tank top under whatever shirt or sweater I had on. Half of my clothes had to go into hiding for the period while I was bf! A mother’s sacrifice!

    • Basil

      Yes! I have so many pieces from cos because they’re perfect for maternity wear, even though they’re not meant to be (I don’t think). For some of their a line dresses, I’ve just worn them back to front as typically the skirt is longer at the back, or there’s gathered material that nicely frames the bump. Another advantage – once you’re in normal clothes again, you can wear them as cos intended

  • Sleepyhead

    This is great! Thank you! You do need to work around the bump, not dress it, as you said. Your body changes in such a way that is so different from just gaining weight and having to size up. I never liked maternity clothing either, but found that just buying bigger items really didn’t flatter after a certain point. I felt much more comfortable in stretchy garments that outlined the belly in a way that wasn’t too tight, but didn’t give me a weird tent look. I am a US size 14 in a non-pregnant state, and for those who need a good place to go for things like leggings or stretchy basics I found Old Navy to be really accommodating. I also found a lot of great stretchy dresses and skirts at Alternative Apparel. The best thing about stretchy basics is they work for the postpartum time when you haven’t quite snapped back to yourself, but look ridiculous in maternity wear.

    • Pandora Sykes

      Yes it’s weird, isn’t it – swathing it just does NOT work

  • Ciccollina

    Excuse me Pandora where are your rings from!?!!?!!!??!

    • Pandora Sykes

      I think they are linked! Sabine Getty and Lucy Williams x Missoma

      • Ciccollina

        Thank you Pandora! I really enjoy saying Pandora.

  • Sophia

    Keep in mind the need for easy boob access once that baby comes out! The first couple of months after the birth are the least elegant – the tummy is still big, the boobs are bursting and you’re exhausted. It’s great if you can find clothes now that will work for then. (Or you end up like me, wearing a really ugly green top or a tiny singlet in every picture of you from that time because they were the only things that gave quick access.)

  • Clara Raubertas

    re: coat: I am exactly this pregnant, live in Chicago, and was/am deeply attached to my regular winter coat. fortunately I discovered that coat extenders exist! I got https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B06XFZSM4C/ and it just zipped right in there, so now I have a warm coat I can close.

  • Pandora, whatever you are doing, it is working! You looks so chic. I love your honesty about looking for things that are right for YOU, despite whatever maternity trends are happening. Stick to your guns on that and enjoy your stunning style.

    http://www.shessobright.com

  • Jackie

    You look so beautiful and happy! So stoked you and Leandra are pregnant because I️ just found out I’m pregnant last week and I️ was already despairing over how to dress as I️ grow…your style is such inspiration and makes everything instantly better. 😆Congrats!!!

  • Hannah

    So many tube skirts, usually worn with silk blouses tied above the bump, ribbed dresses, and giant earrings! Sizing up didn’t work for me either, I just felt enormous, and had to outline the bump, just as you said. I only bought half a dozen pieces though, and worn them over and over.

    • Hannah

      Also, something that no one ever mentioned when I was pregnant was dressing for nursing. I was ecstatic to be back to a somewhat normal shape after I gave birth and then immediately realized I still couldn’t wear most of my clothes, because they need to be both breast-accessable, and easily washable. I’m still wearing about 10% of my wardrobe, albeit a different 10%.

  • Stephanie

    You look really beautiful actually. You give me hope, since the thought of maternity wear gives me the creeps- that’s so hard to explain to my partner/mother/friends- Not only do I have to prepare myself to huge changes physically and mentally during pregnancy, but ought I dress awfully as well??

  • Hannah

    Good observations but as some other commenters hinted at, dressing during pregnancy is still so much easier than dressing the postpartum body. That’s the real challenge. And it’s not just about breastfeeding access (yeah, that makes things complicated enough) but just about being lumpy and awkward and just a different shape than you were before. I mean, maybe you won’t have too much of an issue because you are so slim but I believe everybody experiences it to some degree.