"Attaching the word 'maternity' to anything is one of the biggest obstacles in looking for a 'maternity wedding dress.' It's just a wedding dress," says Giovanna Randall, Head Designer and Founder of Honor NYC, which relaunched as a bridal brand last year. "You want to look radiant and not compromise personal style, which is pretty much a universal request of all brides."
But semantics aside, according to data provider SEMrush, around 20,000 people in the U.S. each month are Google searching for the term "maternity wedding dress." (Fun fact: For the past four years, the number also spikes each January, along with search for "wedding dresses," following post-holiday season engagement season.) During a chat at the Pronovias New York flagship opening earlier this summer, CEO Amandine Ohayon told Fashionista that visitors to the Spanish heritage brand's website are also looking for maternity options. But still, resources and helpful conversations on where, when and how to shop for bridal looks to accommodate a constantly (and unpredictably) growing baby bump aren't so straightforward to find.
"I was searching for pregnancy bloggers and stuff like that. I couldn't find anything that useful," says Brooklyn-based e-commerce executive Liza Wenger, who's due in October and walked down the aisle this past July (double mazel!).
So, we sought out experts in the field — a designer, a retailer, a direct-to-consumer disruptor and, the most valuable experts of all, two beautiful brides who went through the process — for advice for expecting brides on their wedding dress shopping journey.
Understand that there's no crystal ball
"The number-one thing to keep in mind is that you cannot predict how you're going to feel and you cannot predict what your size is going to be," says Lovely Bride Director of Stores Erica Chasco-Smith, who, coincidentally, is expecting. (In the name of research, she personally fit and verified her recommendations prior to our call.) "Everybody grows at different rates," and in different areas: the bump, bust-line, etc.
Plus, for brides shopping early on in the pregnancy, anticipating how they'll want to showcase the baby bump once it finally pops is difficult. Easy fix though: accessories, like a cape or overskirt, can add a layer, while a more body-contouring and ready-to-wear second look can be purchased closer to the wedding date.
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Shop online for rush orders or even custom gowns
In terms of popularity, SEMrush traffic analytics data found the top visited sites for "maternity wedding dresses" are bridal brands with a maternity category like Dressafford (1), David's Bridal (3) and Bridesire (4), maternity sites with bridal offerings like Tiffany Rose (2), Seraphine (5) and June Bridals (6), plus Etsy, TB Dress, Amazon and ASOS.
Ann Arbor-based Mercedes Sarantos was holding out hope to wear the Spanish lace gown she originally purchased. But, at five months along — and three weeks before her wedding day — she needed an alternative. After buying (and returning) a $30 "big bohemian looking dress" on Amazon that didn't fit her personal style, Sarantos spotted an ad in her Facebook feed from bridesmaid and prom gown purveyor Whiterunway.com — thanks to her search trail through about "20 sites." (DTC bridal brands investing in social media marketing take notice... )
An off-the-shoulder, body-con bridesmaid dress caught her eye and Sarantos liked the thick and stretchy material cited in the reviews and bust-line covering ruffle. So she bought the gown in white two sizes up from her pre-pregnancy one. "I just winged it," Sarantos says. "I tried it on once and was like, 'oh, this will zip, so, I think it'll work. It's gonna have to work.' My wedding day came around and I just bought Spanx that went from my chest to my ankles." In a rush, she didn't check the return policy, but we highly suggest you do.
If you have more planning time, you could try the customizable route with direct-to-consumer players, like Anomalie, to create your own bespoke look, or made-to-measure separates and dress brand Lace & Liberty, which Founder and CEO Danielle Wen says works with "many" brides who have bought looks at various stages of their pregnancies.
"For our made-to-measure feature, we are able to allow brides to update their measurements closer to the wedding date," explains Wen, over email. The company can rush deliver a dress, depending on production schedule anywhere between four and eight weeks from the order date.
Try the salon experience — but find the right one for you
The idea of a traditional bridal salon experience — with the possibility of snooty sales staff and long delivery times — can be daunting. But bridal boutiques do have the specialty options and expertise to accommodate your needs. It's just about finding the salon that makes you feel comfortable, knowing what to ask for and working with the right stylist for you.
Do initial research online, make some calls and visit a local shop that carries designers which offer split-sizing — as in, the gown's bodice and bottom can be ordered in, for example, an 8 and a 12, respectively. This allows flexibility for a changing body and more room for alterations closer to the date. Lovely Bride's Chasco-Smith would direct her clients to Louvienne, Alexandra Grecco and Chosen by One Day.
If you plan early, the salon stylist can also help you pre-order a gown to reserve the production window and work with the designer to submit more accurate measurements later when you're further along. (Or if you're ordering directly from the designer in-house, request the dress and material early and confirm measurements closer to the date.)
But most importantly, ensure that you're paired with a stylist who's creative and resourceful with fit. "Stylists really understand how to fit a woman's body and all of her curves," says Chasco-Smith. "It's about getting creative with seams and maybe making a small adjustment to where a style line is hitting, which can open up whole new silhouettes and fabrications you can look at."
On the flip side, a note to less-than-accommodating store staff who assume they can't get a sale out of an expecting bride: Think outside the box with how your dress offerings can be fit and altered. The numbers don't lie; people are looking and want to buy. "The stores need to challenge themselves to be a little more thoughtful," says Chasco-Smith.
Take advantage of luxury department stores' client services
After some online research, Wenger realized she wanted to try on gowns in person. But after an unpleasant experience at a well-known bridal retailer trying on maternity bridesmaid dresses, she decided to follow the lead of her mom, who bought both wedding dresses at Saks Fifth Avenue. But, instead of the bridal department she went to evening-wear to explore their white options.
"If you're pregnant, going to a big department store can be very helpful," says Wenger, who landed on the second look she tried on, a halter-neckline Monique Lhuillier non-bridal gown. She especially appreciated the seamless (no pun intended) process of working directly with the experienced in-house tailor, who coincidentally spent two decades honing her skills at Kleinfeld Bridal.
"We talked with the seamstress and totally deconstructed the whole thing," she says. That included lifting the natural waist to create a mod-ish empire silhouette. "I'm so thankful because for my second fitting, I had grown so much that they had to order the dress in another size. The tailor had already started working on it, but it didn't matter. Because it's Saks." (Note: the seamstress had only pinned and not cut the dress at that point.)
Another pro-tip: If you're shopping in-store anywhere, bring support. "I would definitely go with someone that you know and trust and who doesn't give unsolicited advice because you're going to be extra sensitive," says Wenger, who regrets making her first visit solo. "I went with my mom and that was a really nice experience. But if your mom's not stupidly sweet like mine, don't do it."
Get creative with an empire waist silhouette
If you're in your first trimester, you may have more options with silhouettes. Lace & Liberty clients opt for a wide spectrum, from voluminous flowing A-lines to a body-con and emerging bump-enhancing mermaids. In the second and third trimesters, an empire waist makes for the obvious choice, but there are more ways to wear it than you think.
Along with the A-line skirt, Chasco-Smith suggests a bias-cut option because the diagonal construction "will fluidly contour around your curves." Either way, the silhouette also helps create dimension and delineate the line between your bodice and the bump.
Also play with straps and/or sleeve styles, which can provide an interesting design element, but also offer comfort and support — and not just because of your growing bust-line. "When your belly's moving, it's going to pull on fabric in different ways than you're used to," she adds.
Or opt for bridal separates
Whether for the entire wedding day or a second look bought closer to the date, a top-and-skirt look also makes for an inspired choice. Wen's pregnant clients look to bridal separates for the versatility of the skirt waistband, which can either "sit right under the bust-line or above the bump, depending on how far along she is." Plus, the alteration is easily done closer to the wedding, and avoids the need to take out the entire waist-seam, as a dress would require.
As for the top, Wen suggests a corset that's fitted at the bust, but there's a trick. "The eye and hook part on the back of the corset can be undone from the waistline down to be completely open to accommodate the bump," she explains. "But no one will know the back is undone since it's hidden underneath the skirt."
Select the right fabrics
"Right now, stretch crepe is a really popular bridal fabric, which I think is perfect," says Chasco-Smith. The substantial, flexible material will contour around your belly, if you're looking to highlight your bump. Randall also suggests looking for any sort of "flow-y" material for ease
"Fabrics with a pattern or texture, like lace, are better at disguising any holes left behind by the needle and thread when letting out a seam," advises Lace & Liberty Bridal Designer Annie Hunt, via email. "Whereas, smooth and shiny satins are notorious for showing every flaw."
Plan ahead — but take actions later — when it comes to alterations
If you're planning on lifting the seam to create for an empire silhouette, order extra length on your dress from the get-go. "You don't want to be left with a dress that's too short because you altered the bodice," warns Chasco-Smith.
Also order up in size to give you flexibility to alter down. "We always err on the side of making the maternity dresses too big at the waist, hips and bust to allow it to be taken in instead of risking it not being large enough," says Wen.
Always connect with your tailor as early as possible to plan ahead. The standard timeline for alterations is eight to 10 weeks out. But you should do final alterations as close to the wedding as possible, as you're growing on a daily basis. Chasco-Smith suggests two to three weeks out. Wenger had her final alterations 10 days prior — and the second dress that she ordered four sizes up, with the intention of altering down, just fit her bust-line. Be aware that tailors may charge a rush fee, too.
Also, since everyone's timeline is so different, crowdsourcing info could help future brides. "I wish that there were more resources online of women telling their stories of altering dresses," says Wenger.
In terms of style, keep an open mind
Wenger, a self-proclaimed "typical Brooklyn Girl," originally pictured herself walking down the aisle in a sexy slip dress and changing into a "rock 'n roll tux" for the reception. "You just have to rethink what's going to look good and what you're going to be happy in," she says, about her ultimate look, which actually was pretty rock 'n roll once she put her spin on it.
"It was a cool dress, and it turned into a 1960s look," Wenger says. "The dress had a scalloped lace collar and I had it tucked. It just felt pretty."
Don't forget to take a moment and enjoy the process, too. "Embrace the shape that you have. Embrace that it's a short moment," advises Randall, who multi-tasked spending quality time with her newborn and two toddlers, while speaking with Fashionista. "Your wedding day goes by in a blink of an eye, but so does pregnancy, so just appreciate it."