If You’ve Got It, Flaunt It

Recently I came across a photograph of myself with several of my friends when we were young mothers.

06-05-13-margaret.gifWe are standing together in someone’s backyard with our various children, knee babies and pre-schoolers all. Each of us has at least one child, and some of us have two. Each of us is also in some stage of another pregnancy, some of us bigger than others.

And each of us is wearing, to put it charitably, a muumuu of some description. In case you missed the ‘60s and ‘70s, a muumuu is a brightly colored garment of Hawaiian origin, often with a floral motif, that is big and baggy and reveals few details about the wearer’s figure.

To put it bluntly, they are shapeless.

The photograph brought back warm memories of raising children in a neighborhood filled with friends and lots of their children.

It also triggered a more recent memory of attending a formal dinner dance during the holidays where a fellow guest, a generation younger than I, was attired in what appeared to be a sequin-encrusted black spandex evening gown which clearly defined her growing belly, what we now call her “baby bump.”

That dress was about as far from a muumuu as one could get.

More recently still was an article in The New York Times, entitled “Pregnancy Takes a Turn on the Red Carpet.” The article highlighted an outfit worn by famous-for-being-famous Kim Kardashian who wore a muumuu patterned floral garment to a New York gala, only hers was cut close to the body and showed off a signifi cant baby bump. Critics panned the outfit and a doctored photo of Kardashian plopped on a chintz sofa from which she was virtually indistinguishable circulated on social media. The matching heels and gloves probably did not help.

In addition to the floral disaster, the article features photographs of other celebrities in late stages of pregnancy, several of whom are dressed up for possible acceptance speeches. These include Beyonce in brilliant red, Cate Blanchett and Catherine Zeta-Jones both swathed in yards of fine material, and Eva Marie Saint wearing a “skirt suit” to accept an Academy Award in 1955, two days before her baby arrived. Currently encinta Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, is also featured in a demure spring ensemble including a coat with her baby bump apparent but hardly spotlighted.

Also included and still sensational is Demi Moore’s cover shot for a 1991 issue of Vanity Fair, very pregnant and very naked, wearing nothing but a pixie haircut and large diamond jewelry.

That photograph blew the door off the pregnancy closet.

At the other end of the spectrum is something my father, a courtly Southerner of the old school, told me many years ago. Not that he had any first hand experience, of course, but he spoke with authority when he said that proper Victorian ladies had quite the opposite reaction to being in a family way or, as he put it, “being in a delicate condition.” When their baby bumps appeared, instead of wrapping themselves in spandex or wearing a bulging birthday suit on a magazine cover, they simply retired to their homes for the duration. They emerged several months later with a babe in arms and a fi rmly corseted belly.

I have been trying to make sense of all this without too much success.

Clearly, the Victorian model seeks to tamp down any thoughts about how that baby bump might have gotten there in the fi rst place, but there may be other reasons to cover up if not actually staying at home for months on end. Some women might worry about obvious weight gain, and others might be concerned that pregnancy could affect their jobs or professional aspirations, both illegal but still operative in some cases. In years past, women might have worried about an unwed pregnancy, but that is hardly a concern these days.

And what to make of pregnancies advertised by clingy clothing?

In an essay entitled “The Baby Bump is the New Birkin” last year, Drake University Associate Professor Renee Ann Cramer compared baby bumps to very fancy, very pricey, high-status pocketbooks as a must-have accessory for celebrities. Maybe so, but I see equally advertised baby bumps on mere mortals wearing humble T-shirts with downward pointing arrows and the word “BABY” emblazoned on the bulge.

I am not saying that the muumuus of my era were the perfect maternity get-up. Some of them were hideous, their only saving grace being comfort. I am suggesting, though, that there may be a happy middle ground between staying home in a circus tent and wearing clothes so tight one’s belly button pokes out.

A final word to mothers-to-be.

My experience tells me that no matter how much you like your baby bump, you are going to really, really love your baby!

Photo: What is considered fashionable for pregnancy has changed over the years.

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