How I Built a Professional Maternity Wardrobe Without Breaking the Bank

In the first several weeks and months of my pregnancy, I was so anxious to know the baby was growing well, that any weight gain and hint of a baby belly was a welcome discovery. Sure, my clothes fit a little tighter and my key professional pieces got less comfortable every time I wore them, but that was exactly what was supposed to happen.

Now in my sixth month, there are only a few non-maternity articles still in rotation (including my suit I bought when I first became an attorney, and before I lost twenty pounds of “Bar Exam Weight”; it is 2017: what’s old is new again!). Every day, getting dressed is a new challenge; it is hardly even useful to lay out an outfit the night before, because if baby decides to flip overnight, it may not fit any more!

Desperately searching the great Internet Library for wardrobe ideas, I was disappointed that most maternity wardrobe advice fell into two categories: (1) Wear leggings, t-shirts,a and elastics on your jeans all the time; or (2) Spend all your money on a completely new wardrobe you will use for the next ten months!

We all want to look like Amal Clooney, but what is a young professional to do? I have to look grown-up and put together, but I am not interested in investing hundreds or even thousands into clothes I will only wear for the next six months! Couple my budget constraints with the fact that many clothing lines simply do not offer enough options for female attorneys in general, let alone specific maternity wear, I had to get creative. Although I still have a lot of growing to do, I have already learned a few tips and tricks you might find helpful when building your professional maternity wardrobe, while staying within a reasonable budget.

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You can be surprised by the versatility of some non-maternity items in your closet – or someone else’s! This open blazer looks sharp without putting pressure on your ever-growing torso by foregoing a button closure. Via Kohl’s.

1. Accept hand-me-downs with gratitude.

I have the joy and pleasure of having a close friend who’s pregnancy slightly overlapped with my own. She just had her baby girl two weeks ago, and has been graciously sharing her maternity clothes with me as she outgrows them or simply doesn’t have a use for them any more. She was especially helpful because she worked in an office during her first pregnancy, so she supplied my first pairs of dress pants and blouses for the office. Even though some pieces I may not find useful because of fit, style, or the particular season, many of her hand-me-downs have helped fill critical gaps in my wardrobe and saved the day when I was waiting for purchased clothes to arrive in the mail! I have been so blessed by her generosity and look forward to the day when I will get to pay it forward by sharing my clothes with someone else.

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2. Shop at home first, and then slowly.

In my experience it is a good idea to wait and see what you will need as you go along, rather than filling the online (or real) shopping cart as soon as the test turns blue. In fact, when I looked in my own closet first, I found at least a half-dozen shirts that will work well during every month of pregnancy, two skirts that will probably fit up until the end, and a couple of pairs of leggings that will be well-worn during this period. After I bought my first round of maternity clothes and wore them for a couple of months, I began to notice where there were gaps in my collection. In my first maternity haul, I focused on dresses, thinking they would be a versatile all-in-one outfits. However, after a few weeks of, “Getting dressed would be so much easier if I just had a pencil skirt,” I knew buying that one piece would go far! I realized that although my work dresses were helpful, I needed a few more bottoms so I could mix and match for even more outfits. If I bought too many dresses at first, I would have wasted money on things that did not turn out to be as useful as I thought.

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Stores like Target and Old Navy update their collections often with each season, so check back frequently for styles that go on sale. This slightly less summary top may not be what you want at a barbecue, but it is perfectly work appropriate in your air conditioned office! Via Target.

3. Sales Sales Sales – have I mentioned Sales?

I am not one to pay full price for anything, anyway, but that is especially true when shopping for what will turn out to be – let’s face it – a temporary wardrobe. I know I will continue to wear these after the baby comes for several months, but ultimately I will look funny in pleated shirts and ruched dresses. My go-to place has been Old Navy, but I have also gotten a few pieces from H&M. Old Navy has insane sales and you can practically steal clothes with the deals and discounts they always send to your inbox. I don’t usually like Old Navy for key articles because they are not known to endure for the long-haul, but that is perfect when I am only looking for clothes to last me six months or so! So far, I have spent about two hundred dollars in total on maternity clothes, which has gotten me:

  • two court-appropriate work dresses
  • three slightly less dressy but work-appropriate dresses
  • black dress pants
  • black pencil skirt
  • floral printed t-shirt
  • maternity tankini top
  • sleeveless plain top
  • sleeveless patterned top
  • wireless bra

Twelve items for two hundred dollars means each item cost an average of sixteen dollars. Am I a genius, or what?

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You cannot go wrong with a little black dress – especially this one, which has a button opening to assist in nursing. Via Old Navy.

4. Get the most wear out of every purchase. 

For professional women like me, our “around the house/running errands/weekend” clothes are the exception, not the rule. Maternity jeans, leggings, and flowy sweaters are not going to cut it in court, closings, and client meetings – as comfortable as they may be! It is a challenge, but I have to resist the comfy, casual maternity clothes that are so easy to find. Instead, when at home and on the weekend, I have opted to wear the things I already have (even though they might not fit the best), hand-me-downs, and the few articles I bought that work well for both the office and home.

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This is exactly the kind of dress that is casual enough for a throw-on and go Saturday, but I can also wear with the right accessories and cardigan at the office. Via Old Navy.

A couple of dresses I bought are casual enough that they can be worn to my sister’s birthday party, and then dressed up with accessories and a blazer for the office. It is worth it to me to spend money on the pieces I will wear from 9-5 every day, and then hack it for the rest of the time.

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The mandarin collar on this top is just enough to make it interesting, and the bright color exudes confidence and sophistication. Via H&M

5. Style is in the details: collar, color, and cut.

The most polished look one can wear is a tailored suit, but there is no way I am spending hundreds on a dry-clean only suit, which – if tailored properly – will not even last me through my pregnancy! I needed to switch to stretchier fabrics, but remain polished. How does one fake the tailored look? The details: collars, colors, and cut. A collar or bow on even the loosest-fitting shirt looks instantly more groomed. You will be surprised by the casual brands that still carry shirts with a mandarin collar, a lower-maintenance version of the traditional. If your tops don’t have a collar, add the structure with an open blazer (even a non-maternity one without buttons will provide the collar effect with comfort).

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A shirt like this will take you far, with it’s classic look and color, even without a blazer. This is all-cotton, although it is a denim weave, providing additional structure. Via Target.

As for colors, I like to stick with solid black on the bottom and a bold shirt. This not only makes the shirt more memorable (making it easier to re-wear the bottom even the next day), but the contrast adds a bold confidence. I like sophisticated patterns like stripes or large floral. Otherwise, I tend towards colors that are timeless and serious: maroon, white, and light blue are appropriate for every season.

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This bold print makes the outfit interesting, even without heavy jewelry. A solid pant or skirt and white or light blue cardigan complete the look. Via Old Navy.

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Just like your non-maternity wardrobe, you will need basics to mix and match. I prefer a boot-cut to the slim ankle, because my ankles already tended to be too large for them before pregnancy. Via Gap.

Finally, cut. It is shocking to me that anyone would design a short maternity dress. As if I want one more thing to worry about while navigating pregnancy, let’s add, “Don’t flash everyone!” to the mix. This is something to be particularly aware of when buying from budget brands: they tend to take short-cuts (literally) on length. I do not buy dresses that are described as hitting “above the knee.” I similarly do no buy maxi-style dresses online, because if they are not quite long enough, they look too juvenile.

As for body-con versus empire waist, it depends on how loose the particular dress or shirt is made. I cannot wear a spandex bandage to court, but a billowy sack would also not send the right message. My favorite professional look has been somewhere in-between: an empire waist, but a slightly more fitted skirt. It provides a nod to my pre-maternity favorite (pencil skirt), without being too stuffy or tight. The fabric is key here: a jersey cotton is not going to give you the structure that a polyester blend can.

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This is a fantastically bold color and the cut is perfect: just long enough. The detail at the waist makes it slightly more fitted, without being shockingly tight. Via Old Navy.

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