There is a photo in my baby book of my mother pregnant with me in an oversized floral muumuu that haunts me. She is glowing and beautiful, but it was the dress—shapeless and much too large—that I could never get past. I’d always assumed that those tent-like dresses were simply what one had to wear while pregnant and the thought terrified me. Needless to say, when I was pregnant with my daughter 30 years later, I approached all changes to my wardrobe with skepticism. I wanted to be the sort of pregnant person who didn’t buy any new clothes, so I started by shopping my own wardrobe to see what would be suitable.
Leggings seem to be the go-to suggestion for pregnancy attire, but as a self-proclaimed dress lover, leggings don’t usually make the rota in my day-to-day life so I was hesitant to reach for them just because I had a human growing inside of me! I did purchase a pair of the least-maternity-looking maternity jeans I could find to wear with oversized button-up shirts but other than that, I was able to keep to my pre-baby wardrobe by sticking with dresses. Helped some by timing (I was pregnant in the spring and summer), I got by on floaty frocks and a few nightgowns that perhaps shouldn’t have been worn out of the house. To me, this was the ultimate solution to “maternity dressing”: rocking clothes I already had or only buying something I would wear in my post-bump life too.
The best way to approach pregnancy dressing is to first evaluate your current wardrobe and see what can comfortably adapt with your body, then add in a few pieces that—and this is the crucial part—you would buy regardless of your incoming baby. Also, look at other areas of your wardrobe that you might have thought off-limits before. Tailored blazers left open or cropped denim or leather jackets are great ways to add shape and polish to an otherwise shapeless summery dress.
I had a strong rotation in play of a favorite striped Brock Collection dress, a flowy floral Chloé number, and several linen dresses from Sleeper that became my mainstays. I paired them with a few great jackets and sneakers or ballet flats and the inevitable pair of Birkenstocks—it was a uniform that carried me all the way through. The key takeaway I learned is that you do not need to scour the “maternity” section of your favorite websites to dress that bump.
Below, a trimester-by-trimester guide of some of the best non-maternity dresses that will work for your pre-baby body, your baby-growing body, your post-baby body, and everything in between!
Most of the first trimester is spent in a sort of limbo: Between morning sickness (read: all-day sickness) and the uncertainties of those first few early weeks, you’re likely caught between wanting to shout your pregnancy from the rooftops while also wanting to keep it close to home. You probably won’t look any different at first, too which will feel maddening considering how different you feel. There is also often the frustrating sensation of waking up with a relatively flat stomach and having a bump by the end of the day—very hard for wardrobe planning! The best dresses for this stage are fitted up top for definition but have a bit of wiggle room in the body for whatever is happening on any particular day (or hour). I relied heavily on a puff-sleeved La Ligne dress and smocked dresses from Dôen during this stage.
The golden age of any pregnancy, the second trimester, brings the true debut of that bump and he or she or them should be shown off in all their glory! I was personally thrilled when the bump officially came out. Dresses with a belt or tie of some kind are great for this stage as a bit of waist-cinching adds just the right amount of definition. I lived in a loose Brock Collection dress that had a delicate self-tie sash at the waist, I even wore a pink version of it to my baby shower! A fitted knit dress like Khaite’s Leana dress is also a great option if you’re really feeling your bump and want to show it off, or for those getting used to their changing shape, a wrap dress does the trick just as well.
Comfort is key as you near the end; think loose, flowy silhouettes and anything in the caftan or cotton poplin category. Garments with a removable belt that worked in the second trimester are ideal here as you can remove the tie and wear it loosely. I absolutely lived in Jenni Kayne’s James dress throughout my pregnancy—it was perfectly belted in the early days and loose and flowy when I needed it most at the end. If any fancier occasions fall during your third trimester, an empire waist is the way to go, Agua by Agua Bendita has some beautiful options.
The long-awaited final stretch; the baby is here and you are both figuring out your way in this new sleepy world together. Between the swaddling debate, sleep schedules, and tackling breastfeeding/pumping/bottle feeding, the last thing on earth you want to be doing is thinking about what to wear. Luckily, your workhorse pieces from the last three trimesters should still see you through. Anything with buttons is great for breastfeeding or pumping; I loved a shirt dress from Thierry Colson and my Sleeper dresses. And any of the loose-fitting dresses from your third trimester should be just the thing for your healing body (paired with any undergarment from Bodysuit too.) Hopefully, everything from your pregnancy journey can hang in your closet with pride afterward and be reached for again and again, milk stains and all!