Struggling for a Fashion-Forward Pregnancy

by William Norwich

Alexandra Von Furstenberg and Katherine Betts, Vogue's fashion news director, met for lunch at La Goulue on Madison Avenue on March 22. Ms. Von Furstenberg, who is married to Prince Alexander von Fürstenberg and is about eight months pregnant, was dressed immaculately. "She's still wearing her little Ann Demeulemeester pants!" exclaimed Ms. Betts, who is just six months pregnant but is struggling to forge her look.

The youngest of the three Miller sisters, Ms. Von Furstenberg has inherited a lot of knowledge about being fashionably pregnant. "This is what you have to get," she said as she lifted her sweater and gave Ms. Betts a peek at her "belly band," an expanse of stretchy material worn around the waist to hold up your pants so you can wear them unzipped. The sartorial invention is then hidden by a long top. Ms. Von Furstenberg's belly band was handed down from Pia Getty, her oldest sister, who has three children. Her other sister, Princess Marie-Chantal of Greece, has two children.

Perhaps you've noticed it already: They're having babies in styleland. Aerin Lauder Zinterhoffer is pregnant, Brooke Douglass de Ocampo is pregnant, Cindy Crawford is pregnant, Cynthia Rowley is due any day. Princess Marie-Chantal, Stella Tennant of Greenwich Village, Sandra Bernhard in Chelsea have delivered recently. And they're not abstaining from fashion during those nine months.

Maybe, suddenly this season it's not about the waiting list for the new beaded mule at Gucci, but they're not in tented tops and sweatpants, either. Not a chance.

"I'm so happy about being pregnant, but I don't know what I'm going to wear," Ms. Betts said. The trouble with traditional maternity clothes is the chauvinism inherent in the unflatteringly huge styles. "They are cheap and ugly. As if the communication was, 'Here, buy this piece of crap and be happy.'"

For dressier occasions she is hoping that a couple of A-line styles from the spring collections of Michael Kors, Marc Jacobs and Gucci-popular with almost all the bright young pregnant things-will grow with her. For work, she is still squeezing into the last of two Club Monaco gray stretch skirts with drawstring waists. "I don't like the drawstring look," she said. "No shape."

On March 23, Ms. Betts decided it was time to expand-so to speak-her wardrobe. She headed to Liz Lange, the leading style-sensitive maternity shop in the city, at 1020 Lexington Avenue. She wore a Club Monaco skirt with a darker gray cashmere twin set and knee-high Christian Louboutin high-heeled boots. "I had to exchange these for a larger size: Your feet swell when you're pregnant," Ms. Betts said.

"You don't drink, of course, you don't take any medication. You can single-process color your hair, maybe. You can't eat sushi," she said, passing the Japanese restaurant Ikeno Hana at 1016 Lexington Avenue. Ms. Betts said this was the society girls' favorite sushi place. It looked empty. "See, everyone is pregnant, and staying away."

Ms. Betts also needed to exchange-for extra large-a pair of size medium pants she got on her first pilgrimage to Liz Lange a few days earlier. "I admit it!" But the belly band may change all that. Ms. Betts was fascinated by Ms. Von Furstenberg's contraption, which she could have used a couple of nights earlier when she and her husband, writer Chip Brown, saw Closer at the Music Box Theater. After she had taken her seat, Ms. Betts unzipped her trousers. But when the lights came up at intermission, she was still struggling with the zipper while Liam Neeson, there to see his wife Natasha Richardson, tried to pass right in front of her.

Asked once if she had ever been a fashion victim, C.Z. Guest answered immediately: "Maternity clothes ... if I had to do it over again, I wouldn't wear them." Maternity became a retail category in 1911 when the now defunct Lane Bryant, a store that specialized in ladies' larger sizes, advertised "Comfortable and stylish Maternity Dresses" in the back pages of the New York Herald. The ad promised expectant women they would look normal, particularly in its tea gown with accordion-pleated skirt attached to the bodice by an elastic band.

In the 1960's, the store copied Jacqueline Kennedy's maternity clothes and sold them as "First Lady Maternity Fashions." Helping a woman to look normal was why Hermès invented the Kelly bag. The boxy sack was made for Princess Grace of Monaco so she could carry it crooked over her arm and mask her belly from unflattering photographs during her 1955 pregnancy with Princess Caroline. But voluminous, modest maternity clothes are outdated for the postfeminist, worked-out woman.

"I always thought," said designer Liz Lange, "that being pregnant would be the most glamorous time in a woman's life. But, of course, I wasn't pregnant yet. I got the idea for the shop from all my friends who couldn't find anything to wear when they were pregnant." Ms. Lange opened her store in 1997, but just had her first child about five months ago. Her clothes range from $85 for a shirt to $450 for a made-to-order silk evening dress. "Not cheap compared to regular maternity shops," she admitted. "I make as few modifications as possible. I raise the tummy. I add elastic at the waist. I add a little fabric, but not too much," she said as Ms. Betts picked through a rack of pants, skirts and tops that looked "very Prada." Ms. Lange's best sellers are her low-rider pants.

As she entered Ms. Lange's store, Lillian Wang, a former Elle editor and Bergdorf Goodman fashion consultant, nearly collided with Ms. Betts. Ms. Wang is almost six months pregnant. She said she still was wearing a lot of her Michael Kors pieces, "but with sleeves. My arms are gone. And I'm craving tomatoes-ketchup! Other than that, everything is just wonderful."

"The thing about being pregnant," Ms. Betts said, "is that, at the end of the day, it doesn't matter what you wear because basically everyone is so nice to you when you're pregnant." The two pregnant women compared more notes and agreed enthusiastically on one thing: In the social circus, Brooke de Ocampo is the most amazing pregnant lady of them all.

"She has cheekbones," Ms. Wang said incredulously, "and she's having twins!"

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