Maternity wear gets a makeover
Celebrities who make pregnancy look impossibly stylish
Clare Danes wins at the Emmys for both Homeland and her yellow frock. Photo: Getty images
It's one thing to be pregnant - to swell where one has previously been svelte, to navigate one's new shape, to come under the scrutiny of strangers who, for some reason, feel compelled to touch as well as look - and quite another thing to be pregnant under the intense glare of the media spotlight.
We cheered for Kate Middleton (or, shall we say, Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cambridge, wife of HRH William, Duke of Cambridge, Earl of Strathearn and Baron Carrickfergus) when we learnt of her bun in the oven.
We cheered because thank goodness tabloids could stop being trigger-happy and pre-emptively declaring her with child. We cheered, too, because of the clothes. What will she wear to accommodate her changing shape? Already hailed a style icon and tastemaker, would she elevate maternity style to chic new heights? Surpass Princess Diana, whose 1980s pregnancies featured some big, baggy, sack-like things with neck-bows and contrast collars? Go the Grace Kelly route and bashfully hide her bump behind a costly handbag?
Fortunately for Middleton, maternity clothes have come a long way. As women and their pregnant bodies have been celebrated (think of the celebrities who have bared their naked, ripe figure on magazine covers), maternity wear has taken a turn for the slinkier. It can be glamorous, it can be flattering, it need not be tent-like at all.
Stylist Ella Wallace, who works for Westfield, is sure Middleton will stick to her favourite neutral colours. The duchess will also have the boon of garments custom-made for her (must be nice to have your choice of designers on speed-dial and many others clamouring to dress the world's most-watched mid-section).
''She's going to glow, she's going to be gorgeous,'' Wallace says. ''We'll be watching her every inch of growth.''
Wallace happens to be a mother of two young children herself and highly keen on stylish motherhood.
''Just because you're pregnant, doesn't mean you need to let it all go with outfits,'' she says.
''It could be you're still wanting to show off your figure. Choose lots of colour, choose things that are fitted. You don't need one of those big A-line tops.''
Another maternity style no-no as far as the stylist is concerned is simply choosing an outfit that is not designed for a pregnant body and is, rather, just a bigger size. The risk here is getting swamped in excess fabric, and looking bigger and wider in areas where you are not.
''[Maternity style] is about something other than a large T-shirt,'' Wallace says.
A real staple for the pregnant and stylish is the wrap dress, she says. A wrap dress is forgiving - it can expand or contract, it can stretch over curves and be everything from office-appropriate to dinner wear. She's also all about garments that allow for a lot of variation, such as a five-way dress that can morph from skirt to a halter to everything in between.
''Go with the trends of the season with accessories and colour and find that great piece that can transform into different outfits,'' Wallace says.
She links the changes and improvements in maternity style to expecting mothers remaining in the workforce as long as possible.
Maternity style is constantly on the mind of the fashion editor at ACP Magazines' Pregnancy & Birth title, Anna Kratovil. Kratovil suffered severe morning sickness throughout her nine months and therefore feels solidarity with the duchess, who is battling Hyperemesis Gravidarum, which landed her in hospital.
Kratovil links changes in maternity style to the rise of the ''mumpreneur'' - women who fell pregnant and realised there was a market for chic gear for a mum-to-be.
''They realise that just because you're pregnant, you don't want to wear tents. You still want to wear fitted clothes, you still want to look stylish in clothes that have room for a bump, that show you've got a figure.''
Middleton faces intense scrutiny as it is; so how much harder is it to be a closely watched, intensely famous pregnant woman, rather than an ordinary one?
Kratovil is sure the duchess will take it in her stride.
''She'll just go with it. She always says the right thing, she always looks fantastic. She's very much an icon already.''
The fashion editor is keen on the shift towards increasingly glamorous, stylish and wearable maternity wear. The pregnant body is something to flaunt these days. Kratovil remembers the uproar around the picture of a pregnant Princess Diana - photographed in a light dress with the sun streaming through, making her legs visible.
''It sounds crazy now. Now you can wear shorts, you can wear miniskirts, minidresses, anything, especially in our climate where it gets really, really hot. There is lots and lots of freedom and that is quite important.''
Kratovil says the accessibility of maternity wear makes life easier for the stylish and pregnant.
''The '80s was not a good time in maternity fashion. It was a bit wrong.
''Now you've got Topshop and H&M and everyone doing their own maternity line.
''In this day and age, any designer will make maternity wear.''
Middleton will probably have to do away with heels, which do the pelvis no favours, but she could stick with her favourite L.K. Bennett wedges, mid-heels or stylish pumps.
The fashion editor is sure that if Middleton needs a pregnant royal style idol she need look no further than the always-polished Princess Mary of Denmark. Other models of modern motherhood include Miranda Kerr, Sarah Murdoch and Elle Macpherson, who manage to look effortless.
But do these always-immaculate women who present highly idealised visions of motherhood make it harder for ordinary women who don't have an army of stylists, personal trainers and make-up artists at their disposal?
Kratovil shrugs at this. ''Women will look at the Angelina Jolies [of the world] and say, 'Why don't I look like that?' but they'll say that when not pregnant as well.
''Glamorous mothers are inspirational. They cheer a pregnant lady up, [they think] 'Yay, they're pregnant and fabulous and I can dress up and look fabulous too'.''
Of course, one must consider the less-glamorous moments of pregnancy, when undoubtedly style is the furthest thing from a woman's mind and when, say, she is queasy or uncomfortable or fighting off cravings. What would Kratovil say to women who feel they have no time for stylish motherhood and that regular motherhood will do just fine?
''Keeping things simple and chic is the way to go,'' she says.
Another editor with an eye on maternity style is Franki Hobson, who is at the helm of Cosmopolitan Pregnancy.
Sympathetic to Middleton and pregnant women in general, she says, ''Your body is changing at such a rapid rate that it's hard to adjust mentally and physically with the changes.
''Pregnant women will tell you every day that something that fits one day will not fit the next.''
Women can take years to find shapes that work for their body shape, and no two pregnancies are the same: some women put on weight quickly, while others do not show until 20 weeks.
''Add the scrutiny of media onlookers and this can cause real anxiety.''
Hobson came to Cosmopolitan Pregnancy in 2004 and, at the time, struggled to find fashion for the pages that was as modern and sophisticated as Australian women were.
''But now, with so many 'mumpreneurs' launching their own fashion labels, it's really easy,'' she says.
''You can get on-trend pieces in florals and pastels that are in the shops now, asymmetrical sequin gowns that are flattering and glamorous - all the trends but they accommodate for a woman's growing bump.''
Hobson hails Jolie for changing the perception of pregnancy. Carrying twins and walking the red carpet in an empire-line gown, she revealed the sexy, glamorous side of pregnancy.
This was in stark contrast to the shapeless shifts worn when Princess Diana was pregnant with William.
Hobson is sure Middleton's style will remain as classic, tailored and ladylike as ever as she carries the future monarch.
''She will accentuate her curves but will wear structured shapes that emphasise her best assets,'' she says.