Omaha World Herald

Moms-to-be show off pregnancy in style
Omaha World Herald
Published May 14, 2006


Expecting her fourth child, Michele Ott is bidding farewell to ugly tummy-panel pants of pregnancies past.

The Ashland, Neb., mom wears $180 low-rise maternity jeans just as trendy as her regular pairs.

For the first time, she plans to bare her belly for professional keepsake photos. And she’s replacing the car seat – mostly because she wants the safer five-point harness. But, she said, there’s another influence.

“Style plays into it,” Ott, 33, said. “The other one was just so basic and boring and dated.”

Today, style plays into pregnancy – a lot.

Because of shifts in demographics, the maternity industry and societal attitudes, women are expressing their style and excitement for the baby in new ways, making pregnancy a different experience, even for experienced moms such as Ott.

“You let other people enjoy it with you more along the way,” said Ott, due in October. “In the past, it was more of a secret.”

From more form-fitting clothing to more open discussions of in-vitro fertilization, minds and pocketbooks are opening in what has become a $7 billion a year market for maternity and early baby products.

Pregnancy is hip in pop culture. One Chrysler Pacifica commercial features sexy pregnant women, and celebrity magazines provide “belly bump” patrols and dissections of Angelina Jolie’s every prenatal purchase.

The T-shirt of the past – with “baby” and a downward-pointing arrow – has given way to snug shirts with edgy sayings such as “knocked up,” “hot mama,” and “pregnant (not fat).”

Pregnant women pay professionals to take artistic molds of their stomachs. Some women document their pregnancies publicly in blogs, or Web logs.

“We have gone from a cultural mind-set of pregnancy being a means to an end – ‘I’m going to get through this, I’ll wear what I have to wear’ – as opposed to, ‘I’m going to celebrate this, I’m going to feel gorgeous, I’m going to create an experience itself,’” said Julia Beck, founder of Forty Weeks, a Washington, D.C.-based marketing strategies firm focusing on expectant and new parents. “Now, it has become its own focal point.”

While many people say the trend started in 1991 when a pregnant Demi Moore posed nude for a Vanity Fair cover, Beck credits Cindy Crawford, who had her first child in 1999. The supermodel’s leather maternity pants, focus on prenatal fitness, and writings on a Web site kick-started women into thinking about products for pregnancy, not just for the baby, Beck said.

Designers started offering maternity wear more reflective of high fashion. The trend trickled down to mainstream America when designer Liz Lange introduced clothing lines for Nike in 2001 and for Target in 2002.

Soon, mass retailers such as Gap and Old Navy joined in, competing with market giant Mothers Work, a Philadelphia-based company that owns A Pea in the Pod, Motherhood and Mimi Maternity.

The trend hit the Omaha area mostly in the past year, when two mass retailers – Gap and Old Navy – debuted maternity lines and two locally owned maternity boutiques opened – Belly Bump and 9 Months Maternity & Baby. This fall, Younkers expanded its offerings by three vendors and added another this spring, said Younkers’ maternity buyer Kathy Kahler.

It isn’t just about clothing or mom, though.

Molly Erftmier opened Belly Bump not only because she wanted edgier clothes for herself but also so she could extend her style to her kids. The store offers hip infant clothes such as reworked vintage rock T-shirts or a tee reading “Does this diaper make my butt look big?”

“(Mothers) want to portray their sense of style through their children, their diaper bags, their accessories,” she said.

And they have more discretionary money to do so.

Because more women are waiting longer to have children, the age range of child-bearing women is the broadest in American history – a span of 20 years or more, Beck said.

And not only is the more educated, affluent woman demanding more choices, she’s creating them, Beck said.

“Women are saying, ‘Wait a minute, why not a prenatal DVD for yoga so I can do this at home?’ Or, ‘Why not a better caliber of baby announcements? I didn’t like what was available to me,’” Beck said. “They’re coming up with stuff you only figure out from living it.”

The juvenile products market – defined as everything for the baby from prenatal to preschool excluding diapers, food and apparel – grew from $4 billion in retail sales in 1995 to $7 billion in 2004, according to the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association.

“All of these products are becoming more about fashion and function,” said Amanda Schuon, a spokeswoman for the Richmond, Va.,-based Baby Jogger Co.

Baby Jogger, which introduced its high-end, all-terrain stroller with nonswiveling front wheel 20 years ago, this month introduced three new colors: sea foam green, arctic blue and lilac for its swivel-wheel “city series” stroller.

“Parents like to have options,” Schuon said. “(Baby Jogger) sees that people are spending $800 on a Gucci diaper bag and $150 for car seat covers.”

Still, not all moms can afford those high-end luxuries and find many products unnecessary.

“I have stuff I never used,” said Jami Bracker, a Neola, Iowa, mother of two. “When you register, you see all this stuff, it’s like, you have to have this. A lot of it is just marketing.”

That’s not to say that Bracker isn’t buying. Even women who see through the marketing enjoy having choice – it allows them to find their personal style instead of conforming to the one “mommy style” of the past.

Bracker, whose girls are 9 months and 2 years, said her second pregnancy was noticeably different because of everything from her cute pink-strapped, brown diaper bag to a more celebratory attitude about pregnancy.

“If anything, that’s the time in your life you should get to do the most fun things for yourself because your body is going through a lot,” said Bracker, who indulged in pregnancy massages and pedicures. “I kind of felt like I deserved it.”
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