The birth of fashionable maternity wear

Ask any woman older than 50 what she wore during pregnancy and she will inevitably bring up the bows — the oversized, cartoonish ribbons that adorned much of the maternity wear of the last century.

“You see pictures of women pregnant in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, and they were basically dressed like children,” said Shannon DiPadova, owner of online maternity boutique Due Maternity ( “Let’s just say, there were a lot of Peter Pan collars.”

Or, as designer Liz Lange, who helped de-bow maternity wear with her long-standing Target collection, puts it, “Fashion and pregnancy simply weren’t a compatible pair.”

How times have changed. In the last few years, the maternity market has undergone a dramatic face-lift. Thanks to the ongoing tabloid obsession with Hollywood’s “baby bumps” and the slow-but-steady proliferation of fashion-forward maternity lines, being pregnant — and looking on-trend throughout the nine months — couldn’t be more in vogue.

Signs of the shift are everywhere. Glam celebrity moms Heidi Klum and Nicole Richie have launched collections for maternity-wear juggernaut Destination Maternity (which owns A Pea in the Pod and Motherhood Maternity). “Project Runway” devoted an entire show to creating maternity fashion. Christian Siriano, a past “Project Runway” winner, now designs a chic maternity collection for L.A. brand Moody Mamas. And increasingly, big brands such as Gap, H&M and Maternal America are basing their businesses on refashioning trends pioneered by top designer and contemporary brands. News flash: Skinny jeans now come topped with stretchy elastic waistbands.

Some industry insiders say the swing from frumpy to fabulous is largely due to Angelina Jolie, Katie Holmes, Jessica Alba and a multitude of other celebs who’ve lived out their pregnancies in the public eye — dressed as though their ballooning bellies were mere accessories to tuck under fashion-forward outfits.

“Hollywood has made [pregnancy] exciting and buzz-worthy,” said Elise Rosemarin, co-founder of Moody Mamas, a high-end maternity line that debuted a “diffusion” (lower-priced) maternity collection for Target in October. “Heidi Klum and Halle Berry — all these icons are getting pregnant and looking beautiful,” Rosemarin added. “Maternity fashion used to be about concealment, and now it’s about showing it off.”

“When I saw people like Madonna and Nicole Richie pregnant — and wearing lacy things and sexy things — my idea of what’s pretty in pregnancy changed,” said Stephanie Boye, designer for stylish maternity collection Chiarakruza. “I think things that are fun and flirty — that’s kind of what’s missing in maternity.”

Baby bump-mania has become a huge selling tool — especially online. Maternity boutique Mommy Appelseed features a “Prego Celebs” section, and DiPadova of Due Maternity works with brands to post photos of celebrities wearing items she stocks — Holmes clad in Habitual jeans or Alba toting a Storksak diaper bag.

Yes, there are still plenty of stores dealing in more old-fashioned apparel for pregnant women (think “mom jeans” with belly-band inserts and knit tops with banded bottoms). But the maternity-wear landscape looks miles more stylish — and more reasonably priced — than ever.

Klum’s dual collections (comprising a higher-priced line, Lavish, for A Pea in the Pod and a lower-priced collection, Loved, for Motherhood Maternity), are priced from $13 to $550 and feature fashion-girl staples including leather leggings, skinny black jeans and mini-dresses.

“Heidi has been pregnant four times, knows fashion and is a former A Pea in the Pod client,” said Rebecca Matthias, president and chief creative officer of Destination Maternity. “Working together was a natural fit.”

Richie’s collection, Nicole for A Pea in the Pod, debuted in 2009 and is also full of modern silhouettes modified for the pregnant form. Leggings gathered at the ankles, scarf-hemmed cardigans, silk printed tunics and maxi-skirts, all priced from $55 to $118, look and feel like nonmaternity items you might pick up at Nordstrom.

“When Nicole approached us with the idea of designing a collection, we were really ready and hungry for it,” Matthias said. “About five or six years ago, celebrities started staying in the public eye when they were pregnant instead of disappearing. To [eventually] partner with a celebrity while she was pregnant felt like it was almost meant to be.”

Fast-fashion outfitter H&M has a small-but-singular maternity line called Mama that boasts basics, along with edgy sportswear designed with the bump in mind. Cool kimono-style cardigans, graphic-print tees (for example, a blood-red V-neck with a silhouetted pattern of birds in flight) and the like make it the most youthful maternity collection on the retail scene.

Gap Maternity, which is carried in BabyGap stores and online, is nearly as fashion-savvy. The mass retailer mines the same trends as Gap’s signature line and keeps an eye on what preggie celebs are wearing.

A recent selection at the Glendale Galleria outpost included distressed dark skinny jeans — part of Gap’s premium denim line — khaki shirtdresses, wrap-around frocks and an array of laid-back knit tops and cardigans that aren’t covered in frills. If you didn’t look closely at the fit (or spy those big-bellied mannequins), you’d never guess you were in a maternity section.

Melissa McDonald, head of merchandising for GapKids and GapMaternity, said denim has become a huge part of the company’s maternity mix, as have knit tops and dresses.

“I think it’s about continuity,” she said. “If you are a loyal Gap customer, you can see your pregnancy through with our maternity assortment. The alignment is critical.”

Siriano, who found fame creating haute couture-inspired looks on “Project Runway,” seems an unlikely designer for the maternity market. But he said creating clothes for the pregnant set is “an interesting challenge.” His mission? To imbue in women a sense of “feeling fierce and fabulous … when you’re pregnant that’s something that is sometimes overlooked.”

Current pieces in the collection — which range from about $50 to just over $100 — include a stylish khaki-colored linen bolero jacket, a sleek pencil skirt and a chic black shirtdress.

Lange’s 12-year-old collection for Target helped pioneer maternity wear’s ascent from awkward specialty garments to modified “normal” clothes and continues to offer up trend-right styles for under $40.

A recent peek at the online offerings yielded a smattering of hip and trendy fare, such as a wrap dress, skinny jeans and well-cut knit tops and dresses, mingling with a few outmoded maternity looks, including knit gaucho pants and hippie-dippy tiered maxi-skirts.

“My goal is to help expecting moms make the most of this fashion-challenged time without replacing her entire wardrobe,” Lange said. “I never understood why maternity clothes needed to be so unattractive.”