When I discovered that i was pregnant last year, my friend Joy gave me a copy of "The Girlfriends' Guide to Pregnancy," Vicki Iovine's mega-selling dish on what to really expect when you're expecting. Since I hadn't had any morning sickness, bouts of exhaustion or constipation--or married a knuckle-dragger who could barely grunt out any understanding of my miraculous growing body (apparently a common problem in the Malibu author's circle)--I skipped ahead to the chapter that addressed my immediate concern: Looking the Best You Can. It offered practical information about maternity clothes, but when I got to the part about stirrup pants being her big "fashion secret" for covering up fat ankles, I experienced my first wave of nausea. This from a woman who's married to the record producer who signed Marilyn Manson? Obviously I'd have to crack the code myself.
My first discovery: Anyone who's anyone who's pregnant in L.A. does prenatal yoga at Golden Bridge with the luminescent Gurmukh. Not only is the energy generated by 50 chanting mamas incredible, it's also the best place in town to see what pregnant women really look like. Some women come to class in labor and they're barely showing; others are so big at six months that they simply cannot get any bigger--then they do. Even among women at the same stage of pregnancy, the variety is impressive. But here's one thing they have in common: Nobody's trying to hide their fat ankles under an '80s fashion nightmare. The studio is often full of women of all sizes wearing snug baby-Ts and regular drawstring yoga pants slung low below a belly decorated with a swirl of crystal appliques. The style is about celebrating the voluptuousness of motherhood.
Of course, it's one thing to let it all hang out and wear your too-tight pre-pregnancy clothes to yoga, and another thing to wear them to lunch at The Grill. But that's the beauty of being with child in Los Angeles: Short, tight and belly-baring is the city's latest look in maternity fashion. What a relief to find out that I could waddle around with my shirt hiked up and my pants pulled down and be at fashion's cutting edge. It's like the newest version of the "I'm Not Fat, I'm Pregnant" T-shirt.
These days, maternity clothes are contemporary and fitted, thanks in large part to the availability of stretch-cotton fabrics. Pants with a front elastic panel sewn into an otherwise inelastic fabric are pretty much history, as are the dopey tents with neck and arm holes designed to conceal a pregnancy. The styles at mainstream outlets such as Motherhood Maternity and Gap Maternity (available online only) and Target's In Due Time line are cute, affordable and cut to highlight the ever-growing mystical pod. But there's nothing risky about these collections, which still feature tops that hit below the hip and cover the belly.
But boutiques such as Naissance on Melrose (NOM) tell a different L.A. story. Their motto: Stylish. Sexy. Pregnant. A maternity boutique that also offers nursery furniture and custom bedding upstairs, it has original designs on par with the whole groovy Melrose scene, and prices to match. Until recently, they had an outlet in Calabasas where I picked up some of the same pieces at a deep discount. It's where I bought the prized items of my maternity wardrobe: a fuzzy, cleavage-accentuating pink sweater with red ribbon ties at the elbows and a scoop neckline, and a stretch-corduroy pencil skirt with silver studs down the sides and a fringe hem. Unfortunately, I had no idea how roasting hot I would be throughout my pregnancy, making it nearly impossible to wear the sweater even in the dead of a Los Angeles winter.
Japanese Weekend--recently opened at the Paseo Colorado in Pasadena--is another favorite, offering a complete line of fitted maternity and nursing wear, including the basics, evening wear, swimwear and a great selection of underwear and lingerie. Pants, skirts and shorts are cut in their signature hip-hugger style; a wide elastic-fabric band shows off the belly and helps support the lower back. Beautiful stretch-knit fabrics highlight the new curves, and they're also doing some really cool stuff with faux suede.
As with any kind of radical chic, there are a few things to keep in mind.