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THE FAQ'S OF MATERNITY CLOTHES AND FASHION

Teresa Gallagher and Maria Mueller

The time arrives when your conventional wardrobe is no longer an option and maternity clothing can no longer be avoided. By addressing the most common concerns of moms-to-be included below in their most frequently asked questions, you should be able to shop intelligently and without fear for stylish, comfortable fashions.

1.How do I know what size I am in maternity clothes?

A: Many women make the mistake of thinking they have to buy bigger sizes when they are pregnant. But maternity manufacturers make it easy - they scale the clothes to fit your pre-pregnancy size, and make the proper adjustments to fit growing bellies and bosoms. This way, pant legs and sleeves still fit to your frame (assuming your legs and arms don't get longer with pregnancy!), necklines fall correctly, and hemlines are proportionate. One piece of advice, though - be sure to look for your pre-pregnancy NUMBERED size, not LETTER (ie, look for a 10, not a Medium). Manufacturers vary widely on what they each call a Small, Medium, or Large, so be aware of the corresponding number size.

2. I find it frustrating to have to buy a whole new wardrobe that I will only be able to wear for a few months. Any advice?

A: Some maternity clothes are inherently versatile, and some are actually designed to take you beyond your pregnancy. For example, the drawstring waist is becoming increasingly popular in maternity wear, because of its limitless potential. It can be worn in the very early stages of pregnancy, when your non-maternity pieces are just getting uncomfortable, but before other maternity pieces may fit properly. It will expand with you throughout your nine months, and will be there for you after your pregnancy, before you are able to regain your pre-pregnancy shape. Other styles are specifically designed for extended wear, and include pants/skirts with no maternity panel to sag after you no longer fill it out completely. Instead, the fabric, by its nature, is extremely resilient. It will stretch to fit you in your 9th month, and restrict to fit you for the following 3 months. It allows for a zip fly front and top button closures features that you were able to enjoy before your pregnancy, and now will be able to continue to wear.

3. What is the hottest maternity fashion trend this season?

A: The biggest movement in maternity fashions is towards body hugging and slimming styles. Women are opting to show off their blossoming bodies, rather than trying to hide them. Dresses are skimming the hips and accentuating the bellies. Tops are no loner tunic length, but are now falling just below the belly, some even above. Tanks and camisoles are body fitting with spaghetti straps that allow you the versatility of wearing them alone, or with a blouse or jacket for a little extra coverage. Pants are adopting the new slim-fitting ankle and cropped length look that you will find prevalent in the non-maternity marketplace.

4. I am a size 12, but am only 5'1" tall. Are there maternity clothes out there for me? It seems that many of the "petite" sizes are only for sizes 2 or 4.

A: Many maternity companies have expanded their lines to address the demands for petite sizes. A true petite size range includes all the numbered sizes you would find in missy sizes, but are cut to fit those 5'4" and under. So a pair of pants that are 12 Petite, for example, would fit a missy-size-12 person around the waist and hips, but are usually cut 2 " shorter. Some vendors do offer a full and true petite size range, and others do only have certain sizes that come cut in petite lengths. Be sure not to confuse sizes marked with a "P" for sizes that are actually "extra small" and not petite length, as some manufacturers interchange the two when sizing their items. If you are not sure, and are not able to try on your selection, it's probably best to ask.

5. What are the first maternity clothes I should be buying? A. Quality basics! The most important pieces that you will have throughout your pregnancy are quality basics that can be worn together or with other items you purchase throughout your nine months. A good pair of black pants, a short or long black skirt, and a pair of twill or denim pants can take you a long way. The importance is on the quality. As in your non-maternity wardrobe, you will have your "favorites" that you'll wear over and over again, and you will want them to last through your whole pregnancy, much less through one washing, without falling apart! A few coordinating tops picked up along the way will go far in giving you a fresh new look, and a much needed psychological boost just when you need it most.

6. Can you tell me about the difference between maternity and nursing bras - what to look for and how to get a good fit? How soon should I buy one?

A: Maternity bras are made with extra support in mind. Cups usually have fuller coverage, straps are usually wider so they don't dig into your shoulders, and the band around the back is usually wider to offer more back support. Nursing bras are also constructed with extra support, but they have some type of ability to lower or move one cup at a time without taking the whole bra off to nurse. Some have a clasp or Velcro at the top of the cup that attaches it to the strap, and some have the elasticity to just pull one cup over your breast to the side. You should seek to obtain a good maternity bra as soon as your non-maternity bras become uncomfortable. However, you should wait as long as you possibly can to get a nursing bra, as your breasts will become larger post pregnancy, and you will want the best fit you can get. Some good sources for nursing bras are Japanese Weekend and Bravado!

7. How do return policies differ between Maternity stores and Maternity online stores? Is there anything that I should be wary of?

A: Most brick-and-mortar maternity stores and boutiques have restrictive return policies, and may only allow an exchange, or return for store credit only. One advantage of ordering online or through a mail order catalog, is that return/exchange policies necessarily tend to be more lenient, because of the inability to try the clothes on. This affords you the added luxury of being able to try on your selections in the privacy of your own home! Usually, returns can be made within a certain time frame, and full credit may be given, excluding original shipping and handling charges. But be careful to check each individual retailer for specific restrictions on returns for such items as lingerie, swimwear, Holiday specialty items, and Final Sale items, as well as for return shipping charges and convenience.

8. If a washing label says hand wash, is it ok to put it in the washer under a gentle cycle?

A:Always carefully follow the garment care instructions on the label of your maternity clothes. Quality manufacturers have tested the fabric for reactions to various washing methods, and have selected the method that will give your garment the longest and best life. Dryer heat can shrink cottons to a doll's size, and can also quickly destroy any spandex or elastic in the garment. If you have a specific question about garment care for a specific item, it is best to contact the manufacturer to find out exactly what might happen with any given care method.

9. Do you have any advice for making the maternity clothes that I buy last my whole 9 months and maybe even through my next pregnancy?

A:Purchasing quality maternity clothes is your best bet for making your wardrobe last as long as possible. High quality manufacturers use high quality material, that is tested and re-tested for wear ability and wash ability. This, together with high quality construction will prevent you from watching your favorite pair of pants unravel before your eyes! Well made garments will be able to withstand the additional washing/drying of the clothes you wear over and over again and will be well worth the extra investment!

12. I work in a very professional environment where tailored suiting is a must, and I have frequent occasions that require elegant eveningwear. Consequently, I have an extensive and varied pre-pregnancy wardrobe that would be cost prohibitive to duplicate for 7 months of maternity wear. Do I have any options?

A: Consider leasing. Leasing maternity clothes is a novel approach that is gaining in popularity and availability. Basically, a company will make the initial investment in purchasing the items, and then make them available to the consumer for a particular lease term and price. This type of arrangement can be particularly beneficial if you either need a large variety of styles throughout your pregnancy, or if you are looking for something "extra-special" to wear only once and you prefer not to buy. One such company is Maternity Outfitters. Their collection is divided into 3 categories - Special Occasion, Wardrobe Planner, and Interview Suits. Special Occasion and Interview Suits work on a 2 week lease period, and offer a selection of one-occasion-only styles. For example, a maternity wedding gown that may retail for $325, would be available for a 2 week lease for $150. Or a long evening gown with a velvet shrug that retails for $192, could lease for $90. The Interview Suits are $49, also for a 2 week period. This gives you the flexibility of having a very special suit for a very special occasion, without the very special price tag! The Wardrobe Planner leases out for a one month term, and is designed more for your every day needs, with the benefit of changing styles monthly, to keep you constantly fresh.

Your options are almost limitless for good maternity styles, so prepare yourself to enjoy a satisfying shopping experience for clothing that will help you look and feel your best!

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