MSN Lifestyle

Cheap Clothes for a Growing Belly
MSN Lifestyle
August 24, 2006

I vowed to get through my mostly warm-weather pregnancy with nothing but a couple of sundresses and a pair of flipflops.

Unfortunately, my body undermined this clever plan by requiring new clothes before summer arrived. So I took myself to a maternity shop—and almost fainted at the prices.

Jeans started at $80; dresses were over $100; I’ve repressed the rest.

It reminded me of the outrage one feels at airports and sports stadiums. Eleven dollars for a hotdog and a soda? I hate it when retailers rip you off because they know you don’t have any choice.

So naturally I made it my business these last few months to figure out what the cheaper clothing choices are for expectant moms. And there’s plenty of good news to share.

THE BIRTH OF A NEW MARKET

For decades, perhaps centuries, pregnant women have hated shopping for maternitywear.

“The cost was prohibitive and style-wise you didn’t have many options,” says Kat Fay, editor and consumer analyst for the Mintel Group, a consumer research company that released a report in March about the stunning growth in the maternity market.

Fay refers to this as the “Yes, I want to look like a shower curtain” phase of maternity clothing.

But in the last several years, retailers have been dragged away from their mumu-based designs by maternal trends no one had anticipated:

An Older Momforce. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the number of women ages 30 to 34 having babies increased to 975,000 in 2003 (the most recent tally) from 375,000 in 1975.

“These were working women who needed stylish, professional maternity clothes,” says Fay. “And they not only had the money, they were willing to spend it.”

Glamazon Moms. Gwyneth! Julia! Kate! Britney! Brangelina! The spate of celebrity moms showing off their pregnant curves in sexy designer duds made Everymom sit up and want to go shopping.

RETAILERS EXPAND THEIR REACH

Fay points out that the K-Marts and Wal-Marts have always offered a selection of inexpensive maternity clothes. Moms in search of more style usually had to pay higher prices at chains like Pea in the Pod, Motherhood and Mimi Maternity (which are owned by Mothers Work, Inc.).

The turning point came in 2002 when high-end maternity designer Liz Lange teamed up with Target to offer a line of affordable clothes for pregnant gals who wanted to look hip without spending all their diaper money in advance.

Mass market retailers like Gap (which first offered its maternitywear online), Old Navy, H&M soon followed with super-cute pregnancy designs at prices that Everymom could afford.

The upscale manufacturer Mothers Work expanded into Kohl’s and Sears with 714 affordable maternity departments to date.

Although the maternity sector represents only about 3.7% of the overall clothing market (there are about four million pregnant women per year in the U.S.), maternitywear sales have seen a stunning leap of 28% between 2003 and 2005, according to the Mintel report.

“Most women look at this as a temporary wardrobe,” says Fay. “So cheap and cheerful is good –and mass market retailers cater to this.”

SHOP FOR VALUE AS WELL AS PRICE

I am one of the many expectant moms who has been both delighted and relieved to find stylin’ clothes at prices that don’t give me a migraine. As I type, I am sitting in my Old Navy denim mini skirt ($17—but worth far more based on the admiring looks I get from my husband) and batik top ($12).

But Julia Beck, founder of FortyWeeks, a consulting firm for the expecting and new-mom market, says that pregnant women need to be wary of spending too much on eye-catching items that won’t last.

“Women who are thinking about their budget need to remember to shop for value, not just a certain price point,” Beck says.

Here are some classic spending mistakes pregnant women make, according to Beck:

Buying new clothes for each stage, as opposed to “buying items that will last through all four trimesters,” Beck says, referring to that lumpy post-partum period. “You want clothes that will go up and go down with you.”

Investing in a ‘look’ rather than your actual lifestyle. “If you work in an office, you need clothes that cater to that lifestyle. If you work at home, your core wardrobe will be different.”

Buying one or two sizes larger, rather than investing in actual maternity wear that will fit and look good. “A lot of women think they’ll wear these clothes again, after the baby, but they don’t.”

Thinking you have to invest in a whole new wardrobe. “I think you can have a maternity wardrobe with just 10 new pieces,” Beck says.

SMART WAYS TO SAVE

Beck advises women to invest in a few basic items in solid colors and high-quality elastic fabrics that will expand as their shape does—but are designed to shrink back down after the baby arrives.

“I’m a big fan of wrap styles and ruching,” Beck says, because they offer the greatest range.

You may pay a little more for these items, she says, but they will save you from buying yet another rack of transition clothes for the post-partum period. “Then you go to H&M and get your trendy accent items,” she suggests.

Here are some other tips from my own eight-month odyssey to find cheap clothes for my growing belly, as well as some wisdom from the Women in Red:

Wear His and Hers

You may find that your husband’s wardrobe is a money-saving source of basic items like t-shirts, sweaters, jackets and lounge wear (a.k.a. sweats). Early on, I even borrowed my husband’s jeans.

Shop Young. Don’t tell the kids but today’s teeny-bopper fashions adapt surprisingly well to a pregnant bod, as I discovered when a pal dragged me into Forever 21 and I found over-size tops and empire-waist dresses galore. You may feel like a hippo amid hordes of svelte young shoppers, but get over it. I walked out with four items for $64!

Ask Around

Marketing consultant Kat Fay notes that for all its retail growth the maternity market still revolves around hand-me-downs. Women on the WIR message board agree, advising expectant moms not to be shy about mentioning your clothing needs when a friend, relative or co-worker has a baby.

If you spy some baby clothes at a yard sale, another reader suggests, ask if the seller has any maternity clothes lurking around. Some women forget how valuable their stash is and don’t think to put it out.

Check the Web

Some WIR readers say you can find bargains on eBay, craigslist or freecycle. Others suggest the sale section of well-known retailer’s websites. The only drawback to buying online is not being able to try on the clothes.

Wear What You Have

I was folding up my pre-pregnancy clothes to store them away until next year, when I discovered several things that still fit: a pair of drawstring pants, a “tankini” bathing suit and a couple of dresses. You may not be able to wear your old clothes until your final months, but I found they filled a niche and saved me from shelling out more money on interim pieces.

Editor’s note: Columnist MP Dunleavey and other women have come together on MSN Money to strip away the myths surrounding money, lay bare their assets and liberate themselves from debt. Follow the quest for financial fabulousness of these “Women in Red” in Dunleavey’s column on MSN Money and on her message board.