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FASHION : Some Swell Lessons : How to cope with pregnancy--and all the unsolicited advice that usually accompanies impending birth.


The whole birth thing really is a miracle.

No, I don't mean the changes in a woman's body, her inner glow or any of that stuff. I'm talking about what happens to everyone ELSE when a woman is pregnant.

For a first-timer, it's all a bit confusing. So for the benefit of you novices out there, let me enlighten you about the basic rules of pregnancy.

Lesson No. 1: Co-workers, neighbors and even strangers--people who in the past have kept a respectful distance--will now accost you.

There is a reason for this. Once a woman is pregnant, she automatically becomes public property. Everyone knows this. People are allowed to walk up to her, place their hands on her stomach and give it a squeeze as if it were a cabbage at the market produce section.

Responding with anything less than a demure smile is not advised. I found this out when I was expecting my first child and a nicely dressed man in an elevator mistakenly thought my stomach was Aladdin's lamp. Just as mistakenly, I reached over and tweaked his nose.

"Whad'ya do that for?" he blustered indignantly.

"I don't know," I answered sweetly. "Your nose was just kind of sticking out there." I thought he was going to punch my lights out.

Lesson No. 2: After rubbing and squeezing, people also are permitted to issue an opinion as to whether you are carrying "high" or carrying "low." A lot of you may not believe this, but these people can actually determine, just by looking at your shape, whether you will have a boy or girl.

If you get confused about hearing opposing pronouncements ("You're carrying high--you're having a girl." "You're carrying high--you're having a boy."), don't worry. Just believe whatever it is the last person said.

Lesson No. 3: You must listen to advice, reflections and horror stories, keeping in mind throughout that no matter how graphic, the information is always delivered with your welfare in mind.

My personal favorite was the time I was walking across the street with a colleague I barely knew. As I was stepping off the curb, she casually asked if my husband was going to be present at the birth.

There was a pause after I answered affirmatively. "I don't know if I'd do that or not," she said thoughtfully. "My best friend's husband was there when she had her baby and he never wanted to have sex again."

But with Lesson No. 4, things get a bit tricky. This one is: Once you are expecting a baby, you automatically want to wear polyester, big bows, huge floral prints, horizontal stripes and lace collars. By virtue of the fact that you are about to become a mother, you suddenly have an overwhelming urge to dress up like an innocent 6-year-old.

Never mind that pregnancy is probably the least innocent time in a woman's entire life. Or that for nine months, you are forced to walk with everyone knowing how you got that way. The idea is to look virginal.

Clearly, though, this rule is one of the most troublesome for a lot of people.

"You wear those things and you feel like a clown," says Lisa Orcutt, a Santa Paula mother who is expecting her second child in May. "I don't know why they assume that the minute you get pregnant you want to wear all of that. I usually dress in jeans and tennis shoes. All those bows and lace just isn't me."

Now, I'm not suggesting that a woman in a delicate condition should buck the system. After all, if everyone decided to make up their own rules, we'd have anarchy in fashion. But there are a few ways around this last rule if it really becomes a problem.

For one, there are a lot of non-maternity stores around town showing off mannequins dressed in oversize "spring" clothes. Baggy shirts and bulging sweaters--in other words, the maternity look--is making its way once again into mainstream fashion. For some of you mothers-to-be, this may be a viable alternative to department-store clown suits at equally inflated prices.

There is another way. I popped into a handful of maternity stores around the county, and my favorite by far was Mothercare in the Esplanade Mall in Oxnard. Gone are the frilly, frou-frou dresses that make you feel like a watermelon in drag. In their place are denim jumpers, simple shifts with intriguing patterns and business outfits that won't get a professional woman laughed out of the board room.

"A lot of it is geared toward what people would wear anyway," says assistant manager Eve Barilleaux. "And the good part is that, if you don't lose the weight right away, you can wear these afterward, too."

The prices, I found, also don't assume a connection between the size of the waist and the size of the bank account. One jumper, which can be dressed up with a tailor-cut blouse, was only $31.

To the average shopper, that may not seem like such a big deal.

But for the pregnant woman who's had to endure everything else, it's a welcome surprise she probably never expected.


Ventura County is teeming with the fashionable and not so fashionable. There are trend-makers and trend-breakers. There are those with style--personal and off the rack--and those making fashion statements better left unsaid. Twice a month, we'll be taking a look at fashion in Ventura County--trends, styles and ideas--and asking you what you think. If you have a fashion problem, sighting or suggestion; if you know a fashion success or a fashion victim, let us know. We want to hear from you.

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