In the early months of pregnancy, pants are pretty much on the table, and it doesn’t take much more than sizing up to find a pair you love (or at least don’t mind going to the office in). As the months go on, your c0llection of separates (pants, tops, skirts, etc.) will eventually have to transition into maternity-specific options (jeans with hidden elastic waistbands and the like). However, when the bump grows undeniably in charge of your entire wardrobe as well as the degree to which you can tie your own cross-trainers, dresses are going to dominate your wardrobe. For me, this is true not only because dresses are the one clothing item most capable of flowing and or stretching over the bump, but also because they’re by far the easiest, most comfortable option.
So, now that we’ve established dresses as pregnancy’s best sartorial friend, we need to talk about how, exactly, you manage to find bump-friendly dresses at your favorite retailers. Pulling up Nordstrom, for example, I see that their women’s dress section currently has 10,351 options (144 PAGES) and by the time you’ve clicked through page-by-page and tried to eyeball dress styles that might accommodate a baby bump, you will have delivered your baby and probably also already celebrated his or her high school graduation. My best tip? Get good at search terms and filtering options, fast. I won’t leave you out in the breeze here though, below is a glossary of terms that will guide you in your digital quest for accommodating midsections. No two retailers are exactly alike though, so what you’re able to filter by or search for may vary. Nordstrom is actually awesome at letting you filter by dress style, but other favorite retailers like Shopbop are a bit more limited in their filtering. This is when you take to the search bar armed with terms that fear no trimester. These keywords focus primarily on the cut and silhouette of dresses that either stretch or provide lots of extra flowy fabric beneath the bust to accommodate your growing belly. As far as length goes, you’ll find a wide variety and can go with your personal preference or how recently you’ve managed to shave your legs. Up to you.
How to Find Bump-Friendly Fashion: A Glossary of Search Terms
When searching online for pregnancy-friendly styles among your favorite retailers’ selections of women’s dresses, first identify whether the retailer offers the ability to filter dresses by “Style” (usually found on the left-hand sidebar or tiled across the top of the page). If they do, select any/all of the keywords listed below to narrow results down to options that will accommodate your expanding midsection. If they don’t allow you to filter by style and/or their style filters don’t contain the terms below, hop on over to the search bar and manually type in the below terms for bump-friendly results.
It’s important to note that unfortunately, brands and retailers are quite inconsistent in the terminology they use to name and classify dress styles. For example, at Saks, a dress may be called a “swing dress” while at Bloomingdales, the exact same dress is termed a “trapeze dress.” Keep this in mind if you scroll through the terms below and start to wonder why the description of various dress silhouettes sound somewhat similar—it’s because some of them are! However, I wanted to provide a comprehensive list of terms that could yield pregnancy-friendly search results. This way, if you search a retailer for “t-shirt dresses” and nothing comes up, you’ll know that you can next try “knit dresses” which may result in more options.
A babydoll dress is a dress silhouette that’s very pregnancy-friendly. Typically, this loose-fitting style will flow out from right above or below the bust line, and won’t be tight around your midsection. All that extra fabric in the middle is perfect for accommodating a bump and also for maybe making you feel like we’re back in the 90s and there are Lipsmackers in your bag. All good things.
The “empire” silhouette or “empire waist” dress will have a fitted bodice that ends right below the bust, with a gathered skirt. The skirt will be loosely flowing, and will keep your midsection (and the rest of you) super comfortable throughout your pregnancy. Of course, sizing up will likely still be necessary with this style as your bust size during pregnancy will continue to grow.
Shop the empire dress I’m wearing HERE and more below!
A swing dress is going to be extra flowy, and have an A-line shape. However, rather than the bodice of the dress hugging your waist like many typical “A-line” dresses, a swing dress will typically flow out from the shoulders. A super comfortable style for expecting mothers.
Is there a more welcome word in the English language to a pregnant woman getting dressed? “Flowy” is a catch-all term is used to describe dresses that are all about draping and ease, concealing and accommodating a bump without batting an eye. Flowy dresses are essentially clothing that doesn’t touch your body, and in this heat, with this bump, sign. me. up.
The flowy dress I’m wearing is sold out but check out more below!
Trapeze or Muumuu Dresses
Trapeze or muumuu dresses will have a trapezoid (hey there 5th grade geometry) shape and will be cut a bit narrow through the neck and shoulder, but will then flow out and feel pretty tent-like. (Doesn’t that sound SO comfortable in this heat?)
Let’s hear it for adjustable garments! Wrap dresses will cross in front and be secured with a tie of some kind. Hopefully you have enough room in the tie to wear your wrap dress throughout pregnancy, and my favorite wraps allow me to tie them a bit higher than I normally would not-pregnant, allowing for the bow or knot to hit above the bump which can actually be super cute. Before leaving the house in a wrap dress, be sure to sit down and make sure that there’s enough fabric to cover both your bump and your nether regions. If you feel it’s a close call, invest in a slip to wear underneath which will safeguard against any unintended gaps in the wrap.
Shop the wrap dress I’m wearing HERE and more below!
Despite people constantly using the terms interchangeably, “shifts” and “sheaths” are actually different, so it’s important not to confuse the two. A sheath is going to be super form-fitting (think your classic work dress) and is often not going to stretch. A shift is more of a straight style, that will hang from your shoulders and often hit just above the knee. A bit on the boxy side but still very flattering and bump-friendly.
Peplum dresses are a great option for professional and non-professional settings during pregnancy. We’ve been using peplum to hide food babies for years, so you better believe we can use them to hide actual babies. A peplum itself is a short piece of gathered fabric that hits just above the waist, and falls concealing it. Sizing up is also a wise move here, especially in later months.
Of course, peplums are not exclusive to the dress category—there are peplum blazers and peplum tops that can also be great options during pregnancy (and after).
Shop the peplum dress I’m wearing HERE and more below!
Ah yes, tiered dresses, the magic trick of the fashion world. Tiered dresses are just that, dresses with tiers or layers of fabric that cascade downward and conceal the bump beneath yards of mystery. They can sometimes be a bit ruffly—yet another genius piece of concealing sartorial trickery.
There’s something so youthful and cute about smocking and honestly I love it for summer, pregnant or not pregnant. It’s also been really prevalent in styles for spring and summer 2019, so you should have zero trouble finding it. Smocking is gathered material in tight pleats, but with elastic, so there’s lots of stretch (I felt some of you panicking at the word “tight”). You’ve likely seen it in the bodices of gorgeous maxi and midi dresses with straps that tie at the shoulder, kind of begging to be worn to a barbecue while carrying a cage bag. Alternatively, there are dresses with huge sections of smocking like the red one I’m wearing here.
Note: When searching, you may want to try both the words “smocked” and “smocking.” Brands and retailers may have it entered both ways.
The smocked dress I’m wearing is from Rent The Runway and you can shop more below!
I know, in the height of summer heat, the word “sweater” turns my stomach too, but it’s a good one to know for those who will be bump-ing this fall and winter. Sweater dresses are part of the “knit” family of dresses (described more below) that offer one of God’s greatest gifts to pregnant women: STRETCH. Sweater dresses will be your best friend in winter the same way t-shirt dresses (also described below!) are in summer. Like most dresses with a healthy amount of stretch, sweater dresses will expand where you need it in the mid-section, while staying close to the body in other areas that haven’t expanded quite as much. Again, mind your sizing (you’re still going to want to go up a size or two so it’s not too tight), but know that these are a smart and comfy bet that can easily translate to not-pregnant times as well.
Guys, this is it. This is the one. The soft, lightweight, glorious t-shirt dress. It is the Holy Grail of pregnant closet comfort and if you wanna just wear this from here on out, I applaud you. The ultimate in ease, my one word of advice with t-shirt dresses is to mind the length, especially if you’re looking at above-the-knee options. You might need to size up a bit to accommodate the bump taking up so much fabric that the front of the dress becomes shorter than you’re cool with. Just keeping an eye out for ya.
Shop the t-shirt dress I’m wearing HERE and more below!
A little like the term “flowy” covered above, “knit” is another catch-all term that describes a class of fabric ranging from jersey (i.e. what a t-shirt dress is made of as discussed above), to ponte, to thick sweater dresses (also described above). While the exact composition and weight will vary widely, knit dresses almost always involve a lot of stretch. So, when search terms like “t-shirt dress” or “sweater dress” fail you, type in “knit dress” and odds are you’ll get an avalanche of bump-friendly search results. For example, this Oscar de la Renta polka dress I’m wearing in the photos at the top of this post (and below) is a great example of a knit dress—very cute and flattering but entirely accommodating of everything that’s happening around my midsection. And friends, a lot is happening.
A note on sizing: Keep in mind that you’re shopping in the regular women’s section, not the maternity section, so size up accordingly! Sizing is different for every pregnant woman depending on body type, how much you’re showing, and how far along you are in your pregnancy. In stretchy dresses, some women may take their normal pre-pregnancy size, while others need to size up. Currently, at over eight months pregnant, I’m going up at least two sizes, often three (even in stretchy dresses because I don’t like them skin-tight). Use your best judgment and/or measure yourself so you can compare your measurements to online size charts in determining what size is right for you. And, especially if you’re in the first half of your pregnancy, think about how many more more months you’ll want to be wearing the dress you’re purchasing so you buy a size that will allow for room to grow.
To conclude, learn the terms, use the terms, do the filtering. And, when in doubt, take to the search bar and throw every keyword in this arsenal at ’em. As fun as maternity-specific shopping can be, sometimes you just need to shop like a normal person. By getting comfortable (literally) with a few vital bump-friendly keywords, you’ll generate shopping results tailored (no pun intended) to your current, slightly more circular needs.