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They’re hardly the first to break this news, but this week’s New York Times Thursday Styles section nevertheless announces the advent of stylish maternity wear. “Was it only a half dozen years ago that expectancy was viewed primarily as an awkward condition to be borne with what grace one could muster?” the Times wonders incredulously. “Today women flaunt their pregnancies, take them public on Web sites and blogs and show them off with low-slung jeans, slinky tunics and dresses that mimic those on the runways.” This breathless astonishment that women would make bold to go “slinky” or “low-slung” during pregnancy rankles a little — as though it’s audacious to want to look attractive or professional rather than receding into sexless motherhood. Shouldn’t anyone incubating a future human get to wear whatever she wants (whether that’s a tube top or a big ol’ caftan)?
We learn, however, that this sartorial sea change is only superficially about style; really the trend is about navel-gazing. “We have gone from a cultural mind-set of pregnancy being an endgame, with the focus on the moment the baby is born — I’m going to get through this; I’ll wear what I have to wear — to one that is very much focused on the experience of the journey,” marketing executive Julia Beck tells the Times. And with that in mind, the veiled consternation that some women flaunt their pregnant bellies makes more sense. Focusing on their own journeys rather than on their imminent children? For shame, women, for shame!
Still, the hot-pregnancy trend — the Times describes the ideal aesthetic as “Angelina Jolie-pregnant” — seems to be here to stay, so I’m not too worried about society shaming stylish moms-to-be out of their Sevens. I am a little more worried about the hefty price tags that accompany the NYT’s maternity-camisole fashion show. “A Diane Von Furstenberg silk baby-doll tunic, $195; 7 for All Mankind jeans with a spandex top, $255,” one caption reads. Yow. Granted, the Times hardly ever showcases affordable merch, but at least when they’re spotlighting a pricey sweater one could argue that it’s an item buyers might wear over a lifetime. Maternity wear is only going to fit for a few months at most, and if you buy trendy maternity wear you’re less likely to sport it during a subsequent pregnancy. (Maybe this is why most expecting moms I know just wear layers of black Lycra, and share maternity clothes with their friends and sisters.) The Times claims that “The phenomenon is in part a result of women who delay pregnancy into their 30′s, when their tastes in fashion are more refined and they have the income to indulge,” and for some moms I’m sure that’s true. But I wonder whether expecting moms in lower tax brackets have the same range of options; I haven’t glimpsed a lot of stylish maternity wear at my local Marshall’s.
One more issue the Times — and maternity-wear manufacturers — could stand to delve into: more options for plus-size pregnant ladies. Several moms-to-be I’ve talked to have bemoaned the lack of anything attractive that fits them; the luxury retailers the Times features don’t seem to go above a 12, and Lane Bryant doesn’t do maternity wear. Why shouldn’t all women get to enjoy the dubious distinction of the “belly bump patrol”?
Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.More Page Rockwell.