It’s a horrible cliche that some women spend their pre-married years knowing exactly what they’re going to wear to their wedding, even buying bridal gowns before they’ve met their future husbands. Well, I’ve never given that particular subject much thought (wait: maybe that’s why I’m still living in sin?), but long before I was with child, I contstructed a highly romanticised image of my pregnancy, flickering ahead of me in nostalgic super 8 film. In my imagined version, I lolled around in all my expectant glory, wearing playful, colourful yet somehow still effortlessly chic outfits.
I’m showing my age here but, in 1988, I thought Neneh Cherry was just about the coolest pregnant woman ever. Of course when Cherry stretched fabric revealingly over her protruding tummy, and showed it off in a crop top on Top of the Pops, she was breaking a taboo, and I loved the fact that she in no way looked like a boring grown-up parent. Fast forward 21 years, and MIA performed at the Grammy’s on her due date in this House of Holland sheer and polka dot ensemble. While it was an undeniably out-there look, in 2009 the only shocking thing about it was her amazing stamina for working on her due date. Either way, as much as I hate to consciously aspire to celebrity fashion, and in any case I would hardly prance down my high street in stage wardrobe, I love how these ladies celebrated their baby bumps.
When I became pregnant, I was thrilled that my time for being a little bit outrageous, for making it my own, had finally come. However, life is never how you imagined it. After my initial amazement and joy settled down, fear crept in, of miscarriage, giving birth, the baby’s health, parenthood, diminished career prospects, financial woes, the Loch Ness monster. I sometimes felt as though pregnancy was swallowing me up, like I was being completely taken over by something that had never been part of me before (motherhood). And, likewise, the jolly maternity shopping spree of my dreams, in reality, ended up being rubbish. I was exhausted, constantly needed to pee, and was still way too small for full-on maternity wear, which all looked despressingly meh in the shops anyhow.
It wasn’t until a little later, when I had a proper bump to hail, that I discovered the real fun comes in the making do – which everyone does to a certain extent. Few sane women have the funds or inclination to buy a whole new temporary wardrobe, so you poke around in the backs of drawers and see what will work. Stretching old clothes over your new bump sort of joyfully helps to join yourself up again. There are good times to be had in the freestyling that inevitably goes on when your body is in flux.
My favourite pregnancy item when I was enormous (other than my mother’s kaftan which was just too hippy wizard even for me to wear outdoors), was a purple patterned trapeze dress. Even before I was pregnant it made me look like I was hiding twins in there, but I always loved being enclosed in its comfy cotton reams, and it was short and strappy enough to show a good ratio of me to provide balance. When I was heavily pregnant, however, I started to resemble Violet Beauregarde – the girl in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory who turns into a giant blueberry, and it just felt so right.
Even when dressing for work, I embraced the silly side a little. I loved hearing about my civil servant friend’s tactic of dressing up her smart black jersey maternity dresses with hilariously coloured tights and matching cardis, and I sometimes did a similarly mock prim matching thing with a red tunic top I already owned, over a stretch black dress, with black tights and shiny red shoes. It felt comically co-ordinatated, like how the characters in the film Heathers dressed (woah, that’s another cultural reference from 1988. I must have been some sort of style sponge when I was 14).
Harriet Vine, half of the jewellery design duo behind Tatty Devine, is pretty much the queen of fun maternity outfits. When she was pregnant with her daughter, who is now three, she says she mostly wore “crazy old smock dresses or stretched old clothes. I had a dress with a playing card on the front (and the back of the card was printed on the back of the dress) which was made of jersey, and just stretched over my bump.” And she would “take the bump out for a walk on a Saturday in a terry-towelling dress with diagonal stripes on it.”
Another favourite was a pink needlechord dungaree frock which was 1970s or 80s maternity wear, though she had worn and loved it long before pregnancy. “You have fantasies of what you’ll look like [when pregnant],” she continues, “and mine involved the natural birth guru Janet Balaskas. I had a 1970s book of hers from the library, full of black and white photographs of naked, hairy people giving birth everywhere.”
Accessories-wise, again, Vine wasn’t shy, wearing a collection of vintage broaches that said “baby”, and “big sunglasses, anything which said ‘look at me, I’m pregnant, look at my bump, I love it.'” Even when, in the first trimester, she didn’t want attention drawn to her developing mound, she couldn’t resist “hiding” it behind a theatrical wrestling belt with a vast metal plate on the front. (It didn’t work – one of her friends guessed.)
I’m now hurtling into the second trimester of my second pregnancy and, after talking to Vine, and looking at the series of joyous pregnancy pictures on the blog Pacing the Panic Room, I’m feeling all inspired. This could be the last time I do this, and there will always be plenty of time for dressing like a grown-up, or a wallflower later. I intend to enjoy this.
So I would like to end this final Mother of all column by thanking all the women who have shared their tips in the comments threads over the past six months, and asking you all to tell the world about the most hilarious, brilliant, crazy, silly things you wore, or are wearing right now, over your bumps.