Thursday, May 1, 2003

Reconfiguring fashion

Liz Lange designs maternity clothes moms can embrace

By Samantha Critchell
The Associated Press

[IMAGE] Fashion designer Liz Lange, in her Madison Avenue store in New York, says she models each of her maternity outfits herself and asks: "Do I feel cool in this?"
(Associated Press photo)
Many women spend a good chunk of their 40-week pregnancies in too-big T-shirts trying to hide what we're all eventually going to see - a bulging belly.

Instead of fighting nature, maternity designer Liz Lange says mothers-to-be can eliminate one stress from their lives if they'd just embrace their new figures and make the most of them in shapely styles.

"I do like the idea that you shouldn't hide your body while you're pregnant: Wear sleeveless, shorter skirts, show off your new cleavage, especially in eveningwear. It's a fashion philosophy that works whether you're pregnant or not, women look better in well-fitted clothes," says Lange.

That said, Lange encourages moderation and good taste. "I'm not a big proponent of showing off your naked belly, either. It's OK at the beach or the pool, but while people associate me with modern maternity, I don't design cropped tops or something like that."

Key pieces

In her new book Liz Lange's Maternity Style (Clarkson Potter; $22.50), Lange offers advice and even suggests head-to-toe outfits for different stages of pregnancies and different occasions.

For work, Lange's favorite looks revolve around a few key pieces: a sleeveless tunic top, a black blazer, a streamlined knit dress, a pencil skirt and black cigarette pants. This can be a five-day wardrobe if all the pieces are in neutral colors so they can be mixed and matched easily, she says.

A zip-up fleece sweatshirt, a man's-style button-down shirt, a tank top, yoga pants and jeans are weekend wardrobe essentials.

And for special occasions, which can seem particularly daunting to a pregnant woman, Lange suggests a brightly colored shift dress with a flattering neckline for baby and bridal showers, a feminine print dress with a complementary solid-color cardigan for a graduation, and a just-above-the-knee dress paired with a dress coat for a wedding.

"Social events used to be really hard on pregnant women," says Sally Singer, fashion news director at Vogue. "Sometimes they just wouldn't go because they had nothing to wear."

Vogue recently featured a pregnant woman for the first time on the magazine's cover: Brooke Shields in a sheer silk Krizia dress.

"It (the cover photo) shows pregnancy is just another time in a woman's life when you can look good. This was a cover about fashion and it said, 'Don't be embarrassed about your body,' " Singer says.

Singer credits Lange, retailer Pea in the Pod, which works with labels such as Anne Klein, Diane von Furstenberg and Lilly Pulitzer to adapt current styles for pregnant shapes, and Pamela Skaist-Levy and Gela Taylor, the founders of Juicy Couture, for putting the "fashion" in maternity fashion.

Skaist-Levy and Taylor, wife of Duran Duran's John Taylor, "made it OK for rock 'n' roll moms to look rock 'n' roll," says Singer, while Lange caters to career women.

Lange, a former Vogue staffer herself, adds: "I believed women would spend money on their maternity clothes if there were clothes that they actually liked."

Cool outfits

She approaches each collection as if she's just making "clothes," not "maternity clothes." She also models each outfit herself and asks: "Do I feel cool in this?"

Now the mother of two children, Lange wasn't pregnant yet when she launched her label in 1997 but she says she might not have gotten into the maternity business then if she wasn't at least thinking about her turn in those dowdy duds.

"I looked at the maternity clothes my friends were wearing and there was nothing about the clothes I found appealing," she says. "I tried to put together a small line of pieces I liked and would wear pregnant or not pregnant."

But despite the stylish maternity clothes now available, Lange cautions women not to start wearing them until it's absolutely necessary. If a woman's "bump" isn't big enough, the maternity clothes won't hang right and she'll just look larger than she is.

"Sooner or later, though, your clothes with buttons open or your skirt unzipped will no longer be the most flattering option ... that's what I'm here for," Lange says.

Dressing for twoJust because pregnant women temporarily lose their waists doesn't mean they have to sacrifice their fashion sense. The May issue of InStyle magazine includes several features on pregnancy and baby style.

Editors' tips on shopping for maternity clothes include:

Pace yourself. Buying maternity clothes is an ongoing process. Most women don't need "maternity" garments until the third month - although many buy regular clothes in larger sizes before that. Also, the clothes bought during the second trimester might not fit until the end, so there might be even another shopping trip closer to the due date.

Hit the lingerie department. Typically a pregnant woman goes up a cup size and her rib cage expands, so new bras are needed. Then comes the nursing bras.

Plan on a little post-pregnancy shopping. New mothers shouldn't feel too pressured to fit into their old jeans right after the baby is born. Instead, buy a couple of new and comfortable transition pieces.

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