Kim Kardashian: Take note.
To be stylish and pregnant, you need to embrace your new shape. You have to celebrate it. But you also need to be aware of it, and not keep wearing your regular wardrobe — even if it's a size up.
Kardashian, who is expecting her first child with Kanye West in July, has taken heat from the tabloids and armchair fashion critics for her maternity look, which seems a continuation of her usual parade of body-hugging dresses — many of which have a hard-to-wear hemline that hits below the knee — tucked-in blouses, complicated couturelike details and super-high heels.
Lately, though, it seems she's taken the plunge into maternity clothes, sometimes wearing stretch-waist maternity jeans (designer, of course) and leggings, which Pea in the Pod design director Olivia Capone Myers says are the No. 1 must-have item for a successful pre- and post-baby wardrobe.
Leggings, along with side-ruched T-shirts and dresses, preferably made of stretch jersey, are the first things to buy when the bump starts showing, and they're the last ones you're wearing after mom and baby are settled in at home, Myers says.
Myers, herself 8 months pregnant, says the current wave of celebrity moms-to-be has reignited interest in this corner of the fashion world, which is sometimes more relatable to shoppers than the runway. The key, experts say, is to stay true to your personal style, but not be so stubborn that you won't tweak it.
"Jessica Simpson ... she's really done an amazing job of looking fabulous. She has tweaked her style, moving from heels to flats but still polished. She's kept her sense of style even with her changing body, and she isn't afraid to sport trends," Myers says. "She's wearing maxi dresses and lace."
Baukjen de Swaan Arons, designer of the British-based maternity label Isabella Oliver, has been watching star style, too. She liked the way Jenna Dewan Tatum wore the brand's fitted couture black lace gown at the Oscars earlier this year, but she says that it's equally stylish to be "out and about" in a jersey top. And she gives kudos to a then-pregnant Kristen Bell for doing a rock 'n' roll leather jacket and bright purple dress at the Sundance Film Festival. (Bell has since given birth to a daughter.)
The Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton possesses what might be the world's most famous baby bump, and she has made a seamless transition into her slightly revamped look. She already wore "mostly pretty, flattering and simple silhouettes — dresses, coats, hats and monochromatic color," exactly what style expert Amy Tara Koch would suggest.
"She gets the balance, proportion, simplicity. It seems her nature, so it will already be easier for her to look good every day throughout her pregnancy," says Koch, who wrote the book "Bump It Up."
But that's not how Kardashian dresses, so there are other tips, says Koch: Kimono sleeves instantly create the bohemian vibe that works well in maternity wear, and so do tunic tops with a blousoned dropped waist. The high necks and below-the-knee hemlines Kardashian sometimes wears do not. Dangling earrings would draw the eye to the slope of the neck and shoulders, and a chunky necklace worn against a jewel neck or slightly scooped or V-neck shirt would emphasize the bustline upward.
"You want to create a focal point that will take attention from elsewhere," Koch says. "Kim's face looks so pretty now. She has that glow. That's what we should be looking at."
Fit is also important. Stay away from extremes — whether it's too tight or too loose, says designer Rebecca Minkoff, who blogs for BabyCenter.com.
Oversized clothes might fit the bump, but will work against everywhere else, agrees de Swaan Arons. Consider this the time to show off nice legs or a bit of cleavage.
Jersey fabric with its tight-weave stretch is good camouflage (and not just for pregnant women). Designer Abi Ferrin says good jersey will stretch and shrink with the body, and that the weight of the fabric smooths bumps.
The garment should be cut to give a little bit of structure because the jersey is so forgiving, Ferrin says.
Minkoff got through her first trimester by looping a hair band around the button loop of her pants, but, she says, eventually moms-to-be turn to maternity clothes. Also, it's OK if they eventually need a little confidence boost to alleviate doubts about a changing figure, she says. Her easy fix? Invest in "great shoes, great jewelry and a great jacket."
Researcher MyungHee Sohn, an assistant professor of textile and apparel management at the University of Missouri, has found that, based on body scans, most pregnant women should be moving into maternity clothes in their fifth month, although shoppers typically put it off longer, and the industry uses a 7-month model for most of its measurements.
By the time they are five months pregnant, it's not just their belly that has grown, but also their bust, waist and hips, Sohn says. "It's definitely a new shape. It's not just the body of a woman who gained weight."
Pea in the Pod's Myers notes that what's in maternity stores now reflects broader fashion trends. You'll find the tunic-and-blazer combination, the cardigans layered with nice Ts, and even the bright pops of color and springtime prints. "The mistake I see most is the mentality that they think they have to stay away from stripes, or florals or prints because they fear them to be unflattering, but I think the opposite is true," she says.
A clean, sharp nautical stripe, for example, will break up the bump.
An "it" look, like a peplum, which she dubs "an arrow to your hips," can be harder to pull off, Koch says. Instead consider of-the-moment accessories, such as a shoe-bootie with a stacked heel or a candy-colored, oversized handbag.
Just don't overstuff it — yet. "Pretty soon that will turn into a heavy diaper bag," Minkoff says.