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ST. LOUIS, Mo. - There's no day quite like an expectant woman's own Labor Day ... and the clothes that she chooses to wear leading up to that grand occasion play their own important part.
Look around, you might have to do a double-take to figure out that a friend, co-worker or play-date mom is pregnant. She might look a little bigger, but chances are she's wearing clothing much like what she wore before the pregnancy.
Smocked dresses with cap sleeves, baggy overalls with downward pointing arrows and those predictably pregnant, three-piece wardrobe sets have given way to clothing that is much more stylish and trend-conscious thanks to updates by designers like Liz Lange and to women voicing their concerns and being heard by select manufacturers.
Rebecca Matthias couldn't find the kind of maternity wear she wanted to wear, so she designed her own and began selling the fashions through a mail-order company known as Mothers Work. That was in 1982.
"I was pregnant and needed to find professional clothing to wear to work, and in the back of my mind I had intended to start a business," says Matthias, a civil engineer and architect by trade.
Now, three children later, she heads the Mothers Work empire that encompasses the Destination Maternity chain of Motherhood, Mimi Maternity and A Pea in the Pod maternity fashions.
She says, for years, manufacturers missed the maternity point. "Pregnant women want fashions like what they wore before they got pregnant," she explains. "I had a need. It didn't change because I was pregnant. This is a time when many women are at the height of their fashion years, when they want to look great, maybe more than ever."
Matthias' stores cover the gamut. You're likely to nab jeans for about $20 through the Motherhood brand. You'll find a number of trendy options that are moderately priced (say $65 and up) at Mimi Maternity, and you'll shell out a pretty penny (certainly more than $195) for the designer items carried at A Pea in the Pod (which is not part of the Destination Maternity store in St. Louis but is available online at www.apeainthepod.com).
Now trends from the runway easily slide over the curves of expectant moms. Among the season's most practical are knits.
"They are very important this fall. You get a great fit. Your body is changing every day. The more flexibility you can have, the better the fit. There's a lot of Lycra and stretch in our tanks and shirts," says Matthias, who notes that last year's poncho was a boon for her and other maternity retailers. "This year, it's translated into the shrug."
Donna Catsavis, 32, spent many a day of the early months of her pregnancy shopping. A stepmother to three, Catsavis eagerly awaits the birth of her daughter this November. But in the meantime, she has no plans to miss a step in terms of fashion. Catsavis likes to look good.
"It makes a difference when you can wear clothes that are flattering and don't make you feel larger than you feel," she explains of her shopping mantra. "You can still be fashionable."
Often times, she says people are "amazed" that the items she chooses are really maternity at all.
She says the people who tend to notice most are older women, who remember when. "That generation of women, they're the ones I get the most compliments from. They're so amazed to see how the styles have evolved, whereas they had to wear such unflattering clothes. They're always sharing stories with me."
Even at seven months pregnant, Catsavis doesn't shy away from designer jeans, halters or tank tops.
"I feel that it was an easy transition for me because of the fashions available. It definitely helped me to embrace my new shape and added weight," she says. "It makes you feel good. You have that look because of your stomach but you don't want to look like a tent walking around. This way you can still feel feminine and attractive."
One of Catsavis' new maternity haunts is Queen Bee, which opened in July.
The adorable sliver of a store, at 14A North Meramec in Clayton, Mo., carries comfy chic looks in jersey, crochet knits, denim, cords and other fine fabrics. Brands range from Susana Monaco to Chaiken.
The store's birth is the brainchild of former school teacher Alicia James and former pharmaceutical saleswoman Jennifer Dunaway.
And, daily it seems, the store is aflutter with gift givers and expectant moms looking for cute novelty tanks, lingerie, jeans and special occasion dresses - which the store stocks sparingly but promises will get more in coming months - for nights out on the town.
Sizes at this high-end boutique range from extra small (about size 2) to extra large (in this store, that's a 12). For an added touch, the owners offer by-appointment-only shopping hours on Mondays for moms who prefer to shop alone or with family and friends.
But if more maternity bang for your buck sounds appealing Tomorrow's Mother Maternity Outlet, 15289 Manchester Road, in Ballwin will certainly seem like a find.
Decoration is spare and the offerings are somewhat slim, but this store carries close-out apparel from last fall and can boast dirt-cheap prices.
And really, who wouldn't be tempted when you can nab a few seasonal tops for $1.99 each, a simple pair of pants for $3.99 and reasonably in-fashion day blouses for $15.
The store is scheduled to close its doors for good around the holidays, but staffers say they will continue to get new shipments until then.
(c) 2005, St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.