How One Mom Put Together a Chic, Professional Maternity Wardrobe for $200
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Almost all affordable maternity clothing is shapeless, pink or covered in flowers. And the more stylish, beautiful options can be incredibly pricey: one blazer from Pea in the Pod costs $378!
Like many women who work in a corporate setting, I struggled to find stylish and affordable clothing during my pregnancy with my son. I wanted to look nice, but I didn’t want to break the bank to do it.
So I put my frugality skills to the test, and managed to build a wardrobe for less than $200: 27 tops, 16 dresses, four blazers, five cardigans, four pairs of jeans, three pairs of slacks, and lots more. Here’s how I did it.
1. Shop Your Closet First
Before you set out to find a good sale, start at home.
Search through your closet see what items might accommodate a growing belly — some of your favorite clothes might be perfect. For me, jersey dresses, blazers I prefer to wear unbuttoned, cardigans, drawstring pants and shorts, and long loose or stretchy tops stayed in my closet. Some of it worked until month five, and some worked throughout my pregnancy.
And if friends or family are willing, “shop” in their closets, too! I borrowed a few tops, a jacket and a dress from my mom, sister and grandma that were either a larger size than my usual options, or made of a slinky, stretchy material. My husband’s hoodies and jackets served me well for walking the dog or going for a neighborhood stroll. And I slept in his T-shirts, but I always do that.
2. Extend the Life of Your Pre-Pregnancy Clothes
If you’re like many women, your bra size will likely change throughout your pregnancy, and then again throughout your breastfeeding journey.
You could buy yourself new bras ($20-$100+ each depending on the size, brand and quality), or you could try a pack of bra hook extenders for under $3 on Amazon.
When you first need a bigger size, these genius inventions extend the size of the band so you can wear your regular bra a little longer. You might need a bigger cup size in a few months, so the last thing you want to do is spend a lot of money to have a drawerful of different bra sizes. The bra hook extenders attach to the hooks on your bra, as quickly and easily as closing/opening the clasps as usual, and can stay on for washings. If you machine wash, be sure to close the clasps so that they don't snag anything else.
Be sure to check your bras to see whether they have two or three hooks, so you can buy the right extenders; I had some of each type, so needed one pack of each. If and when you need a bigger cup size, consider sticking to your pre-pregnancy band size and using extenders. That way, you may be able to wear the bra again in the future.
Another product that many women swear by is the belly band or tummy sleeve. It might allow you to wear your old jeans and pants, opened, while keeping you covered. You can also keep things simple and go with the old elastic trick if your top is long enough. If you’re like many of us and have a ton of hair ties hidden in your bathroom drawer, this tactic is free!
One more strategy to help your pre-pregnancy clothes last longer: Give your accessories some extra love! That bold scarf or necklace can be just what your plain black dress or jeans and tank top are missing.
3. Look for Maternity-Friendly Styles
As you begin to shop — whether you’re looking at new or used clothing — think long term, focusing on garments that will work throughout your pregnancy, double as convenient nursing clothes and look great on you years later.
Start with the staples. My shopping list (in addition to what I already owned) included a black pencil skirt, two pairs of slacks and three dresses, which got my professional wardrobe off to the right start. And a pair of skinny jeans, some tank tops, yoga pants and some leggings did the same for evenings and weekends.
Lots of great posts like this one explain how to get by wearing non-maternity clothes during your pregnancy. Whether you have an item like this in your closet or you see it on a sale rack, keep an eye out for these flattering non-maternity styles.
Stretchy Fabrics With Ruching
A stretchy dress or tunic with side or tummy ruching can be a flattering option for the office. Look for ones that hit around the knee, with a higher neckline. Pair with a black tights and an unbuttoned blazer for colder weather or AC season.
I luckily found myself at a Ralph Lauren family and friends sale around four months into my pregnancy. I bought myself three seriously discounted, knee-length stretchy dresses with ruching on the mid-section. The black one got me through countless meetings at work, and the navy and light blue ones were perfect for parties and pre-baby date nights with my husband.
Stretchy or cotton T-shirts with extra-room in the midsection fit a baby bump beautifully — especially if they are gathered at the hip, or have ruching in the middle or on the side.
Open Cardigans or Blazers
A cardigan or blazer with a maternity tank top is a simple and versatile look that can work with jeans, slacks or a pencil skirt. You can find very similar garments outside the maternity section, so don’t limit yourself!
4. Look for Free Items
The biggest life-lesson I learned from my career in fundraising is, if you don't ask, you don't get! Tell your friends and family you’d love hand-me-downs — they might not know you’re open to the idea, and may have the perfect dress or top for you.
Look for local parent groups and listservs on Yahoo and Facebook, and post that you're seeking used maternity clothes. I learned about my Brooklyn groups — Cortelyou Moms, FlatbushFamilyNetwork and brooklynbabyhui — from some other expecting moms at a local coffee shop, but you can browse for your local Yahoo groups under Family & Home/Parenting /Moms and Family & Home/Parenting /Parenting Babies and Toddlers. I got a big bag of free clothes from a parent group, and two flattering non-maternity tops from a women’s clothing swap
These groups can also help you make new-parent friends in your neighborhood, learn about resources in your community — including maternity clothing swaps — and compare notes online on a variety of pregnancy and parenting topics. I learned about free events for expecting parents nearby through one of the parent groups I joined — and at one event, I won a $50 gift certificate to a local maternity store!
5. Thrift Wisely
In addition to scouring your favorite local thrift stores for maternity clothes and non-maternity styles that work, check out shopgoodwill.com and thredUP’s fantastic maternity sections. On both sites, you can find great stuff starting at $4.99.
Also, check out secondhand and consignment baby stores in your area. Many of them have a fabulous maternity rack or two in addition to the baby items.
And don’t forget about those local parent listervs, Facebook groups and other Facebook garage sale groups. Many parents will post items they no longer need for a low price. I scored myself a huge bag from one of my parent groups, packed with jeans, four pairs of new black tights, 10 designer tops and four dresses, for $40.
6. Buy Strategically
If you are buying new, think outside of the usual stores you might shop in. I was surprised to find some great options on Walmart.com and was equally surprised to find that simple maternity items from Kohl’s were often more expensive than those at GAP or Nordstrom. Check Shopstyle for ideas of brands that offer maternity clothing.
In addition to these stores, I also found some great maternity departments online at H&M, Target, Old Navy, Etsy, Asos, Loft, JCPenney, Zulily, Macy’s (which carries discounted items from Motherhood Maternity and A Pea in the Pod), Burlington Coat Factory and Amazon. I prefer the convenience of shopping online so I can test items with other clothing I own at home, and return what doesn't work by mail or to the store, but I did shop in stores as well. If you’re going to visit stores in person, save time by making sure your local store has a maternity section. For example, not all H&M stores do.
For bras or tank tops, choose nursing styles during your pregnancy and so you’re already prepared for your nursing days, if you’re planning to breastfeed. Toward the end of my pregnancy, a wireless nursing sports bra was my favorite, and it got plenty of use during my maternity leave. Some items may even last longer: I bought a great maternity jersey tank top for $7 at JCPenney. Since the neckline was super stretchy, I was able to nurse my little guy in it, and the cut still looks cute on me now, baby-bump-free.
Here are a few more great items that helped me manage my wardrobe strategically. Consider adding them to your registry!
- The Undercover Mama: This undershirt makes any top a nursing top.
- A pack of Bamboobies: These bra pads are not only super comfortable, but will save you money, since you can wash these over and over rather than using disposables.
- A woven wrap: If you plan to babywear (I’m a big fan), consider buying one you can use to wrap your belly for support, instead of buying an expensive maternity belt for those heaviest weeks. Here’s a video explaining how to wrap your belly. Your wrap could also help cover a shirt that’s not quite long enough to cover your belly at its biggest.
7. Befriend a tailor
Free clothes or cheap maternity wear that’s not quite your size or style might end up being perfect — you just need a little help from a tailor.
Look at whether a few inexpensive alterations could help you avoid pricey new purchases. Many tailors (and even a few Etsy shops) can even convert your favorite pair of pants or jeans into maternity pants. Some tailors can also convert a regular bra into a nursing bra, as can just about any old-school bra shop.
Planning your maternity wardrobe can be challenging, especially when you’re trying to stick to a budget. But find clothing that makes you feel happy and beautiful, and you will be gazing at photos from your pregnancy and thinking “wow, I was gorgeous,” in no time.
Your Turn: How did you acquire a maternity wardrobe on a budget? Share your strategies in the comments!
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Yevgeniya Bulayevskaya emigrated from the Ukraine as a child and comes from a long line of resourceful mothers. A full-time fundraiser at a national nonprofit organization and a lifelong frugalista, Yev lives in Brooklyn with her wonderful husband, adorable two-year-old son and a silly dog named Abram.