her style: Dress the bump for the office

Special to her magazineAugust 1, 2012 

Dressing professionally for work every day can be difficult in normal circumstances but, as wonderful as it is in the end, having a bun in the oven further complicates weekday mornings.

Maintaining your sense of fashion when dressing the bump is challenging on a budget. However, by maximizing the belly-friendly pieces you already have in your wardrobe and buying a few versatile pieces of maternity clothing, it is possible to get through all nine months without any morning meltdowns in front of the closet. (OK, maybe just one or two meltdowns.)

"It is possible to maintain your sense of style during pregnancy," says Nicole Balch, whose "Making it Lovely" blog touches on everything from maternity and nursing fashion to home décor and DIY projects.

When you need a professional look, Balch recommends making the most out of "loose, blousy" tops you already own and using a belt to create an empire waist.

You likely also already have cardigans in your wardrobe, which usually transition easily to maternity wear. "Don't both with 'maternity' cardigans," Balch says in her blog. "Any that you own will still fit, charmingly unbuttoned to show off the belly."

Mom-of-two (and one on the way) Natalie, who pens "The Busy Budgeting Mom" blog, says tops are the pieces with which you can get most creative and "play with non-maternity items." She specifically recommends shopping at Target for trendy shirts that stretch in the belly area. "The styles right now are perfect for preggo girls so you aren't confined to just maternity items," Natalie says.

Dresses are among the most versatile, flattering outfit options during pregnancy. With the help of belts tied above the tummy -- a fashion-forward look that translates beautifully during pregnancy -- jackets, cardigans and pretty scarves, almost any dress can be transformed into work attire. Although Balch says it's worth getting a maternity dress or two in the final months.

"Dresses will get shorter and shorter in front as your belly expands," she explains. "…So if you wear a lot of dresses, you may want to buy a couple maternity versions. They'll be cut to hug your belly instead of just hanging from it."

Bottoms get a bit trickier, especially when it comes to professional dress -- a fall or winter pregnancy means you'll need more than easy, breezy dresses, tops and cardigans. Balch says that maternity pencil skirts are flattering, while a flowing, jersey-material skirt may not look as polished for work but is cute and comfortable.

Pairing skirts with maternity tights is also a great option for cooler weather, and Balch says you can also buy larger-sized regular tights in a range of colors and patterns.

When it comes to pants, simple hair ties and maternity "belly bands" are a budget-conscious woman's best friends in early pregnancy. With a hair tie, you can wear your favorite pants longer by looping the tie over your pants button, pulling it through the hole on the other side, and securing it back around the button. Belly bands, which can be purchased from any maternity clothing store, are stretchy pieces of fabric that are meant to fit securely around your waist band to hold up your pants when you can no longer button them.

However, it is likely that you will eventually need to purchase maternity pants and be confronted with the decision of either a low-rise or full tummy panel. A full panel completely covers the belly, stopping just below the bust, while a low-rise panel scoops under the baby bump.

"If you are a fan of low-rise pants in general, you may like them as a maternity option … but I prefer the full-panel option," Balch says. "They aren't tight, but they do feel more secure (than low-rise), and I like that my tummy is covered in case my shirt isn't long enough."

Natalie points out that you shouldn't feel bad about splurging on a few key items to complete your maternity wardrobe. "Luckily, a lot of the clothes I pick out can last before and after pregnancy. But some things are set aside in the closet as pregnancy items, postpartum items, and then items that I wear once I nurse off the baby weight," she adds. "I think every mother has this happen!"

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