Time was, I used to roam the halls of Tyson's Corner and catch a glimpse of a cool outfit in the corner of my eye. When I would turn to see where I could obtain such an outfit, I would notice that it was from A Pea in the Pod, get mildly embarrassed to be coveting maternity wear, and move on.
So, when I got pregnant, I was all excited to shop in maternity stores, only to find that it was not easy to build a maternity wardrobe for several reasons. I had to do some hardcore "research" to find out where the good stuff is and I'm still kicking myself for not taking advantage of a few things early.
I also found shopping for maternity clothes difficult to downright depressing. As a seasoned shopper who loves the order of a nicely merchandised store and sales people who actually helpful, maternity was a shock. Half of the stores are a jumbled mess, the other half put the maternity section hidden in the little boys department. Hey, news flash retail America! I'm pregnant, not a 7 year old boy who wants to look at Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles t-shirts.
Hopefully, they newly preggo can benefit from my experience and mistakes as I sit here 8 and 1/2 months pregnant and cranky.
The Preggo Only Chains
Ok, the mass maternity market is dominated by the Destination Maternity chain. They consolidated a bunch of the smaller stores of varying price points out there into one megaline. In non-knocked up speak, it is the Gap of maternity clothes.
(Not to be confused with the actual Gap, which also has its own maternity line)
So, following that analogy, A Pea in the Pod is like Banana Republic with the "Collection" being the highest end of the spectrum. Mimi Maternity is sort of like Gap, and Motherhood Maternity is the Old Navy.
Stuff at the Pea in the Pod is really nice...they carry all the best denim lines with stretchy panels and tops and dresses designed by labels you've actually heard of, like Ella Moss and Splendid. However, you will pay dearly for it. To be totally honest, I got all excited about these, only to never purchase anything, because it was just too expensive for maternity. However, I was pregnant over a summer that set records for hellatiousness. If I needed jeans, this would be my first and only stop. I did get my main pair of grey work pants from PITP and they served me well.
Most of the Mimi stores are a jumble of private label stuff, some Collection things, the Heidi Klum lines etc. I found these very hit or miss.
And then there are the Motherhood stores. Ugh. These places are scary. They are typically smaller than the Rosetta Stone kiosk at the mall and tucked away down a side alley near a lonely gold-plating jewelry store. The tables and racks are overflowing and messy and obnoxiously pastel. The sales clerks actually look like they would rather slit their own wrists than help you find a size, because hello! You're pregnant, just take the largest one. Seriously, after fruitlessly visiting one of these stores, I actually burst into tears on the way home. But, I have found that their basic t-shirts and tanks are the best and cheapest out there.
However, there are also the megastores, like the Destination Maternity in New York. This is, if you can get it, your best option. They are huge, nice, and well merchandised. Even the lowest end stuff. Plus, they have the strap on fake bellies in the dressing room, which is hugely helpful at the beginning.
Bottom Line: If you can't make it to a Destination Maternity store, resolve yourself to spending a lot at Pea in the Pod, or make a quick blitzkrieg trip to Motherhood for basics and invest the extra money in therapy and ice cream.
I include Target in this category because it's the largest major chain to have maternity in all their stores, unlike the ones below which only seem to have one spot per time zone. This was probably my biggest disappointment. After hearing for years about the Liz Lange line and seeking out basics at Target, I was psyched to get stuff there for maternity, only to find that the tank tops are almost indecently thin, some of the stuff fits oddly, and the selection was poor. If you really want to, prove me wrong, but these were always the things that ended up last in my wardrobe rotation.
The Real Stores that Make a Maternity Line
I had great success with Gap maternity, but not until the end of my pregnancy. Since it's just a regular Gap store, it's hard to figure out how things will look without the fake belly, and I shied away from most things. Once I was a solid baby belly, things looked better. I actually scooped up a kick-ass pair of white jeans on sale in July with a soft panel (some really dig in after a while, which, believe it or not, are uncomfortable. Also, those seem to seriously piss off my baby.) Their tees and tops are nice, and they come in real colors, not pukey washed out pastels (I mean, really? Do the manufacturers think it goes well with green-tinged skin or something?) that you see in a lot of other stores. You can also get some stuff on for-serious sale.
My only complaint? I went in during a clearance promotion where the sales clerk told us everyone on sale was an extra 30% off. Giddy with excitement, I scooped up my things and headed to the register only to be told that that was just for "women's clothes." I think I may have flipped the salesclerk the bird.
Honestly, I never got a good look at the Old Navy stuff since they hid it in the kids section and had about four items of clothes. Boo.
Ann Taylor Loft apparently has a great maternity section, but it's all online. I have heard people swear by it for work basics and I believe them. I wasn't a big online shopper during pregnancy (shopping was my cardio once my OB nixed running) so I never tried, but I recommend based on the feedback from others.
I totally heart Topshop Maternity. I got two fantastic pencil skirts there, as well as a pair of my favorite skinny jeans with a panel. The clothes are actually on trend, fit well, and don't try to make you look like a baby just because you are having a baby. Unfortunately, there is only the one store in New York, but the online shop is worth checking out. Also, it's stocked right next to the shoes, instead of some random corner of retail hell like stores.
H&M does stock a limited selection of maternity clothes, but they can be hard to find. I managed to get a pair of cargo pants, but I had to dig through a lot o' crap to find it. From what I've heard, this section of their outfit has gone way downhill recently. There are better options out there...plus, there is nothing online.
The Special Stores, Literally and Figuratively
This store has two branches, one in New York, the other in Chicago, as well as a kick ass website. This was the first place where I went shopping with my mother, only 4 months pregnant and watched her burst into tears when I put on the fake belly with an outfit. They have a really nice selection and salespeople who are knowledgeable. They also make their own line called NOM, which is super cute. A warning though, this is not the place to get tees...go for work basics like a pencil skirt or a nicer dress instead. Your unborn child's 529 plan will thank you.
Ah, Rosie Pope. Prominently featured in the Bethenny Getting Married? show, this place is amazing. The clothes look beautiful and I want to buy everything. Unfortunately, unless you are a model or are planning on being pregnant as many times as that Duggar woman, it's hard to justify spending this kind of cash on maternity.
I met the designer of this line at an event in DC (she's a local!) and ended up buying her "Favorite Dress" in an ikat print that she was actually wearing to the event! Not only is the MoM stuff cute, well made and not outrageously priced, it looks good when you are not pregnant! I've worn that dress to several nicer parties, including my baby shower and plan on keeping it in the rotation for a long while after the baby is born. Plus! Her website features a few of her favorite things, constantly rotating.
If I hadn't moved and started working from home, I would have picked up a few things from this online only retailer which stocks nice classic clothes, made to work for maternity. Their dresses appear on stars all the time and would be great, especially for fall pregnancies, when you might have trouble getting away with jersey dresses the way I did.
Places that Stock Maternity and the Newcomers
These are a few of the places I didn't even know stocked maternity until fairly late in my pregnancy...
Shopbop...yup. It's true. Strange, but true. It's mostly jeans, but they also suggest a few regular items that will work for preggos.
Zappos...also, according to their ads recently, they sell deep-fat fryers.
Forever 21...blame Bristol Palin and Secret Life of the American Teenager or the general decline of family values in America (jk!), but Forever 21 has entered the maternity market. I was curious to try their leggings, but never got around to it.
Asos...similar to Topshop, this British retailer stocks maternity online at reasonable prices. It's too late for me, but some of this stuff is CUTE.
I'm sure that there are lots of retailers that I'm missing and I would like to reiterate that you can make a lot of things that are already in your closet work throughout the pregnancy. I think it keeps you feeling normal and saves money...but buying some nice things that make you feel cute as you rapidly expand is really important. So...happy shopping!