When my boyfriend and I found out we were pregnant back in May (inadvertently joining the biggest trend of the year so far after homemade sourdough), I went through the standard period of shock, followed by a more curious stage of denial. I promised myself that nothing, including my wardrobe, had to change. I’m just going to breeze through this in skinny jeans and oversized button-downs, I thought to myself. I am definitely not buying maternity clothes!
Fast-forward six months. I am somewhat proud to report that I have remained faithful to that promise, one pair of Topshop maternity jeans and sized-up leggings not withstanding. That said, the concept is a lot cooler in theory than in practice. Nothing I own fits (or looks right), my boyfriend and I regularly argue about the state of his sweaters, which I plan to hijack until February 2021. I also recently found myself cancelling plans because the prospect of wearing said Topshop jeans, with their slightly infantilizing spandex band, made me want to cry. Well-intentioned friends send over screen shots of “comfy” Crayola-color loungewear sets that are guaranteed to make me look like a Teletubby, while others urge me to “dress up the bump” with skin-tight clothing that I simply don’t have the courage for. Rather than feeling glowing and vibrant, like the pregnant women in the targeted ads that Instagram bombards me with each day, I just feel uncomfortable in a body I no longer recognize. And so, I decide to seek advice from a few French women, a species known for their effortlessness and self-acceptance.
I am relieved to find out that I am not the only one who has struggled through the second trimester transition period. Editorial writer and consultant Ophélie Meunier, who is currently eight-and-a-half-months pregnant, recalls having a hard time adjusting to her changing shape at around four-and-a-half months, when she realized that her wardrobe no longer fit. She credits her boyfriend for giving her the confidence to get through this stage. “He hid the bathroom scale, telling me that the most important thing was that our baby was healthy, that he didn’t care about my appearance, and that I was beautiful,” she recalls. Designer of Pompom Paris, Lola Rykiel, who gave birth in September, recounts having a hard time in the last stretch of her pregnancy. She had to adjust to a figure that didn’t quite match the pregnant fitness influencer body she had imagined. Curiously, she found support in the most unexpected of places. “Everywhere I went, people in the street and passerby were so thoughtful and kind,” says Rykiel of the small town in the south of France where she spent her last trimester. “It was so nice to have this moment of connection, coming from a place of honoring something sacred. To receive this love from the outside world helped me accept and finally feel proud of my body.”
Owner of two Parisian vegan restaurants, Coralie Jouhier, who is currently five-and-a-half-months pregnant with her second child, offers a similar experience. “People are always so nice to me, as though I am more beautiful. I receive beautiful compliments in the streets, benevolence, people sharing smiles,” she says fondly, adding that this very generosity allows her to feel womanly, strong, and secure during her pregnancy. Parisian expat and entrepreneur Ajiri Aki, who had both of her children in France, notes that this is something particular to French culture. “Being pregnant in Paris comes with less pressure and unnecessary societal expectations,” she says, noting that the French don’t hold it against you if you do not match up to some sort of contrived pregnancy ideal.
Most French women carry that self-assuredness into their wardrobes, settling into a style that is generally somewhat reminiscent of their pre-pregnancy aesthetic. Always a proponent of mixed proportions, Rykiel played with proportions and experimented with new ways to highlight her form. “It’s ironic because my grandmother’s business started when she was pregnant, and she was the first to make a skin-tight knit sweater to show off her belly,” she says, referring to the Sonia Rykiel “Poor Boy Sweater” that forever changed the way pregnant women were portrayed. Instead, Rykiel found herself naturally drawn to the dancer’s wardrobe she had loved since childhood, one that inspired her label, Pompom Paris. “I lived in my Pompom leggings day and night, mixing them with items borrowed from my husband: Ralph Lauren and Uniqlo shirts, Supreme jackets, anything that looked good.” Other staples included Uniqlo underpinnings and flowing dresses from brands like One Season and Zazo. “They are romantic and fell so perfectly, I love that I can wear them even after my pregnancy.”
Meunier, whose wardrobe had always been on the more tailored side, followed said principle throughout her pregnancy by choosing outfits that emphasized her silhouette. She invested in a few select pieces that she wore regularly, such as pair Nike maternity leggings, an oversized sweater from CAES (a brand that only uses organic fabrics) and a few vintage dresses she found on Vinted and Imparfaite. When asked for tips, she recommends choosing a body part that you want to emphasize, whether it is your neckline or your legs, and staying away from unflattering tracksuits. “Our shapes are bigger and more generous, and I think it's a mistake to hide them under pieces that are too oversized…. Fitted clothing keep your femininity alive.”
A self-acclaimed “dress queen” through and through, Aki stayed true to her signature during pregnancy, while switching up the cuts. “I loved the freedom of flowing dresses, and yet form-defining looks showed off that maternity silhouette that I find so beautiful.” Reluctant to buy new clothing in the beginning, she eventually ended up purchasing a few A-line dresses, alternating them with her favorite prairie dresses and caftans and adding lots of bracelets and earrings to “glam up her dress rotation.” Jouhier too finds herself gravitating toward dresses during this period, although she admits that her taste for them is more of an acquired one. “I was such a pants-and-jeans girl, my pregnancy made me more feminine,” she says admitting that her style depends on her mood. On some days, she finds herself reaching for more fitted dresses that allow her to proudly show off her growing belly; on others, she goes for loose pants and cozy wide sweaters, which create a feeling of intimacy with the baby inside her. Rather than buying maternity clothes, she just shops at regular and vintage stores and sizes up, stressing the value of comfort and the feeling that the clothes provide her. “Wear what makes you feel beautiful and comfortable! You need to be in a good mood when you are pregnant, it's really important…. The style is the energy you have and you give.” As a woman who genuinely loves being pregnant (a rare, beautiful, delightful breed), she really helps me see the entire experience in a new light. “I find it magical to see your body change. It's a positive change because you know that a little being is developing inside your belly. We have the impression of having magical powers when we see our bellies expand!”
Perhaps, this is exactly what I have been missing all along, the fact that there is a far greater purpose to these nine months. For the first time in my life, it is no longer about my body, my style, or myself. This is a time to create space for my yet-to-be-born child.