Update: There is now an H&M in Myeongdong with Maternity, Nursing and baby items. Bras up to size E cup:
You are pregnant for 40 out of the 52 weeks of the year. If you live in a 4-season climate, that's 3 out of 4 seasons. For the first pregnancy, most people don't show much until the second trimester. For subsequent pregnancies, you tend to pop back out (I think I started showing at conception).
The choices in maternity wear in the US are fairly limited (Korea will be covered at the end of this post). You can feel like a hostage. It is really frightening when you realize that many of the big maternity clothes stores and brands are owned by the same company. The internet has really opened up a lot more options for maternity fashion. Unfortunately, most of these are expensive. This may cause you to rebel and vow not to buy maternity clothes. While it may be possible to avoid maternity clothes--at least until the end--you will be more comfortable, feel better and look better if you invest in a few key pieces.
What you need depends on your body, your climate and your job. If you work in a more formal environment, you need more, but even a homemaker needs some nice things to wear.
1. A Bella Band or Belly Band or Tummy Sleeve are three slightly different versions (fabric, price, size) of the same product idea. It is a tube of stretchy fabric that helps you stretch your wardrobe through the transitions: it can go over your regular pants (with the button open) to keep you in your pre-pregnancy clothes longer, go over your maternity pants to hold them up when they are still too big, and finally, you can use them for post-partum. Another great use is to cover your belly when nursing. Trust me, you will be more concerned with covering your belly than your breasts.
Why not use a belt? Well, firstly, the belt wouldn't help with keeping you in your pre-pregnancy clothes longer or letting you wear your pre-pregnancy clothes sooner after delivery. Secondly, maternity clothes are shaped differently. If you want to use a belt, get a maternity belt. For my first pregnancy, I did not and spent my early post-partum days flashing the world, despite the use of a regular non-maternity belt.
These bands come in neutrals and patterns. I recommend getting one (maybe two if your are working) in a neutral and only pick up more if you find you are using them a lot.
2. A good pair of dressy jeans (no rips, no big embellishments) and a good pair of black pants. I prefer bottoms with just a low band, not a full belly panel because you can wear the ones with the low band earlier and I don't like the feeling of the full panels. Check places like Target and Old Navy first, but if you can't find a good fit, these two pieces are a good place to invest. You can wear them all the time for all sorts of occasions.
3. If you will be big and pregnant in the summer (or have access to a pool in the winter), get a maternity swimsuit or bikini. It is a great way to stay in shape year round and to stay cool in the summer. Yes, there is the difference in the fit between regular bikinis and maternity bikinis. Some people can get away with wearing their regular bikinis throughout their pregnancies. I was not one of those people.
4. Another summer item is maternity shorts because sometimes skirts are still too hot. I have been living in my maternity shorts this week. I only have one pair (wish I had two).
5. If you will be big and pregnant in winter, you need a coat. I was big and pregnant in the summer last time so I do not have a coat, but I will need one this time. A maternity coat will fit the best. You can get away without one, but if you live in a cold climate, this is another place to invest. Check places like Old Navy and Target first.
6. A dressy dress. When I was in Hawaii, I scored a great maternity holiday dress on clearance. You just need one, but that way you are ready for just about any event: holiday party, wedding, night out, etc. that may come up. Black pants and a dressy top will work as well, but it is fun to dress up. It is a nice indulgence that doesn't have to cost a lot if you shop around. A black dress is probably the most versatile, but not the most fun.
7. Basic, solid color tanks, t-shirts, long sleeved t-shirts (depending on the seasons you will be showing most in). You can pick these up cheaply and they will stretch your wardrobe without a lot of cost. You can spend $48 or more for a tank, but there's really no need.
8. Cardigan sweaters. Good for layering. Useful in the summer in over-air conditioned environments and in the winter when it is colder. I may get a maternity sweater (other than a cardigan) or two on sale or at some place cheap like Old Navy since I will be pregnant in the winter. But no matter what time of year, a neutral cardigan or two will take you far.
9. Maternity underwear/maternity thongs. I just got bigger underwear and bigger thongs last time. Like the bikini, example, they never really fit properly. They larger size regular underwear was bigger in the wrong places. This time I will be buying maternity underwear. I will get the bikini and thong style, not the full belly panel style. I think cheap, larger size regular underwear are still the best for post partum because they will get messy and you can just throw them out if they don't survive well. For the pregnancy though, I think it is worth it to get maternity underwear.
REVISED: As I approach the third trimester, underbelly underwear and pants are irritating my cesarean scar. Going to try the big girl maternity panties soon!
10. A few dressy tops. Add some excitement to your basic wardrobe.
11. Skirts, especially in summer. You can wear your regular elastic waist skirts for quite awhile during pregnancy, but it is nice to have the gentler feel of a skirt with a maternity waist band.
12. Maternity/nursing bras: get them towards the very end of your pregnancy. It is good to have a professional fitting to make sure you have the right size with a little room to grow because your boobs will get a lot bigger when your milk comes in, they will go down as your body adjusts and gets on a proper milk-making cycle. Look for bras with a lot of support, no underwire (can cause clogged ducts and lead to mastitis), and easy openings. This is not a place to skimp. Get a few high-quality nursing bras like Medela, Bravado, etc. Skip Motherhood and Target bras for the first few months. They are cheaper, but not as durable and you need something strong and supportive in the first few months.
Ways to save money:
1. Check Old Navy and Target frequently. The merchandise changes all the time and they always have sales. Target is notoriously low-stocked, so find out your size and order online.
2. Check second hand stores like Once Upon a Child, Salvation Army, Good Will (or Second Hand Rose on base). It is hit or miss, but sometimes you can score big. If you have the time to look around, do it.
3. Check sales at maternity boutiques and the higher end mall maternity stores like Mimi and A Pea in the Pod. I got a dress at a boutique for $10. It was originally priced over $100. I wouldn't have paid that, but I would have paid $30 or $40. I got a maternity bikini for $20 that was originally $100.
4. Check online sales as well. Things that were once ridiculously over-priced are reasonable or good deals on sale.
5. Borrow maternity clothes from friends.
6. Check ebay. People sell their clothes in lots. Sometimes you can get really good deals, other times, you would be better off shopping sales. If you enjoy the ebay process, it is worth a look.
7. Borrow your husband's clothes or friend's regular clothes. I don't like doing this. Things do not fit as well and don't look as good. However, a lot of people do this.
8. Take advantage of the empire waist styles in regular clothing. You need to be careful, because there is often a body skimming inner liner in regular clothing and they aren't cut as big as your end-of-pregnancy belly may need, but they are a good option for the first and possibly second trimesters.
Where to look in Korea:
1. If you have access to the base and the APO, of course you can check the PX and order online through US sites. I've found the PX at Yongsan seems to only have big sizes. If you are a size small, forget it or find out when the delivery is coming and be there that day.
2. In Korea, there are lots of online sites. Here are some examples: MizMami, To Be a Mom, Maternity Underwear, G Market, Lora.
You will need a Korean to help you, but the prices aren't bad. Some really good deals with free shipping can be found online.
You can order from the Australian site zodee.com and pay in won. If you are authorized to use the APO, you can pay in dollars. They have Hot Milk and Womama brands nursing bras. Pretty, supportive nursing bras.
3. There are maternity clothes in specialty stores and near some baby sections of department stores. I will update this post with directions and more details when I actually visit some of these. We went to the Doota in Damdaemun. It is very close to the Damdaemun metro station exit. the maternity clothes were on the 6th floor with the baby stuff. Jeans ranged in price from $30-$70. There were a lot of expensive tops $50+, but some cheap pull on pants for $14. Things looked very large which is odd because regular clothes are pretty small. Part of it is the current fashion, but even the pants looked big. We didn't try them on, though. There is supposed to be a good place in the basement of the Shinsaegae Department Store.
Here are some notes from Sarah and R:
I found the first and second floor of Mesa Department in Namdaemun (Hoehyeon St. exit 7) store very good. Most of my shirts are not officially maternity shirts...just oversized regular shirts. But there are true maternity shops in there, too. Also, if you go to the baby malls in Namdaemun (right around the corner from Mesa), there are some cheap women's shops on the second floors....I got a lot of my shirts there.
As for pants, I only bought two pair, one jeans, one black pants. I got the jeans in Doota (Dongdaemun), and my black pants in Migliore in Myeong-dong (Myeong-dong station exit 6 I think). In basement of Migliore, there are a bunch of maternity shops. No fantastic deals, but the ladies were very friendly and helpful. The pants are lovely.
Lotte Department Store in Myungdong on the 4th Floor. It is called PRENATAL. They have a good selection: work pants and jeans,...(you have to look at 140 000 won a pair, though) and the shop assistant is very helpful.
From another friend's e-mail:
"There is a area called HwaGokDong!
You can reach that area by subway line number 5!
You can exit 1 from HwaGok Station.
Wthin 5 min walk, you will see some nice baby product shops. There are many
baby-mom hospitals and some of them run shops!!
Major company for moms and babies put notice that they imported popular
brand into their shop! There were 3-5 shops I think. Very big and nice ones."
I will update the Korea section as Sarah and I shop, but if anyone has specific stores/brands/online sites in Korea to suggest, please help us out!
I hope to have more to add for plus-sized maternity in Korea. First of all, plus-size in Korean regular clothes is like US size 12. The maternity clothes seem bigger, but if you are above size 12, you will have more difficulty finding things that fit. I have several friends who say they've had great luck with some stores in Itaewon for plus-sized clothing (up to 3X). They didn't have maternity clothing specifically, but my friends just bought a larger size and were able to stretch their maternity wardrobes. They had to order bras and some other maternity clothing from the US, Australia and Canada, but shipping and import taxes can be a killer so you may need to supplement. If I get the specific store name, I will update this post. Otherwise, take a walk around Itaewon.
If you have favorite US online sites, let me know that as well.