The big news about spring maternity clothes is that fashion--no matter how wild, how slim or how bare--is the only thing that counts.
For the first time in memory, maternity clothes are styled almost exactly the same as regular clothes, right down to sarongs, minis, tube skirts, backless dresses, stirrup pants, leggings, skirts slit to the thigh, drop-waist dresses with fanny wraps and even peek-a-boo lace Victorian teddies.
Even the fabrics, colors and prices are about the same for maternity as non-maternity.
More surprising still, these clothes are, for the most part, constructed just like regular clothes. The main difference is in the sizing or expandability of elastic waistbands. Those unsightly tummy panels sewn into pants or skirts, for example, are vanishing. They're replaced by clever, "double-breasted" flaps that can be buttoned looser and looser as the baby grows.
Sabine Brouillet, owner of Pink and Blue boutiques in Beverly Hills, which offer some of the most advanced looks in the market, says: "We copy what's on the street and adapt it for maternity. That's it. It's such a simple concept, isn't it? And yet it took us so long to figure it out.
"Now, I can tell you, there is nothing too trendy, too sexy, too chic or too bright to show in maternity. The look is the look, right?"
New York designer Judy Loeb, for Sweet Mama, one of the hottest labels in the business, adds: "No matter how kooky the current look, I make it for maternity and it sells. It's a far cry from even five years ago when my T-shirt spelling BABY with an arrow pointing to the tummy was just about the most risque thing around."
One reason for such blatant plagiarism is clear. One of the hottest ready-to-wear silhouettes last fall (and a continuing one for spring) is oversize tops worn over skinny pants or leggings. This look not only works on the pregnant figure, but succeeds in making it look slimmer than it really is. What's more, it's actually comfortable, says film star/singer Olivia Newton-John, a client of Pink and Blue who recently gave birth to a baby girl.
"I lived in oversize shirts, cotton leggings and sneakers during my pregnancy," Newton-John says. "They put the focus on the legs rather the tummy, which I like. Also, I think that style makes you look pretty, but not obviously pregnant.
"Come to think of it, I didn't actually wear anything that much different from my regular wardrobe. I like drop-waist cotton dresses with T-shirts, which I get from my store (Koala Blue on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles), and in the evening, I mostly wear dressy, oversize jackets with shoulder pads and tights.
Another and perhaps more enduring reason for this spring's maternity-fashion explosion is what people, such as Phyllis Anka of Motherhood Maternity, call "the continuation of the baby-boomer bonanza."
Post-World War II generations are now in their late 20s and 30s and many have finally gotten around to having babies after finishing school, getting a job and marrying late. And although the birthrate may not return to the all-time high level of 4 million per year (1946-1962), the National Center for Health Statistics predicts that the high level of 3.7 million births per year, which started about two years ago, will continue through 1986.
This so-called mini-boom, or baby boomlet, is creating a marketing bonanza in maternity wear as well as in children's necessities, and the buying splurge is expected to last for at least 10 more years.
"It seems that consumers are wanting more than ever to wear exactly what's fashionable in the ready-to-wear market," Anka says. "We are seeing a whole new generation of older, better-educated professional women who have more money to spend on their wardrobe and more places to wear it."
For retailers such as Anka and Elsie Pollock of Page Boy Maternity boutiques, this burgeoning group of so-called "pregnant yuppies" or "boomlet mothers" has radically changed maternity fashion.
"Style and design--not price--are this customer's chief consideration," observes Pollock, who says she is having the most successful season in the store's history.
"The really trendy, fashionable items just fly out of the store," she adds.
But there is trendy and there is trendy. Oregon-based designers Jacqueline Lipshutz and Sue Chenoweth of Deux Amies are doing some of the most risque things around. The firm offers cotton lace Victorian undergarments (they look like slips) attached to lace skirts; toga-wrap tops with bat-wing sleeves; flamenco dresses with low backs and ruffled skirts; sarongs, mini tube skirts and Victorian-style jackets with lace jabots and vests.
Lipshutz, who started designing last year and recently moved to larger quarters, says: "Our motto is that there is nothing wrong with looking slightly provocative and feminine when you are pregnant. We offer nothing prissy. If we do a bow, it is enormous. And it's on the hips or the rear, not the neck."
While the sudden urge for the in look is boosting maternity sales, there are certain repercussions. The classic, tailored, dress-for-success maternity business suit, for example, a hot item as few as two years ago, is far less popular this year, along with the once obligatory maternity jumper and blouse.
Both items, Anka says, have all but died as a category for Motherhood's 320-store chain.
Page Boy's Pollack agrees: "The dull business suit is just not the answer anymore--even non-pregnant working women aren't wearing them nowadays."
Both Pollack and Anka say pregnant career women now overwhelmingly prefer skirt and top sets in all colors and patterns, as well as novelty sweaters worn with pleated skirts, dresses with dropped waistlines and oversize shirts (not blouses) with narrow pants or leggings.