Dressing up THE BUMP

Gone are the days of shapeless floral moo moos and nautical-inspired tents intended to hide a growing baby bump. Today’s maternity clothing trends aim to stay on target with mainstream fashion and celebrate or even highlight a woman’s expanding belly.

And while online shopping gives expecting mothers an abundance of maternity options, it doesn’t help them decide which styles will fit and flatter their new and unfamiliar physiques.

A few years ago, some tri-state area merchants saw a need for local maternity options and seized the opportunity to fill the void. They both say most local moms are looking for clothing that is functional, comfortable and affordable while helping them maintain a sense of self.

Six years ago, the Steve’s Ace Home and Garden location on Kennedy Road in Dubuque added Sprout, a children’s boutique, to help serve new and expecting mothers in the tri-state area.

Buyer Tricia Kerth said it was her sister, Sara Carpenter, who first thought of the idea when she was pregnant because she was frustrated by the lack of options for baby gear and maternity clothes in the Dubuque area.

“She wanted to see it, touch it and know what she was getting,” Kerth said.

The business soon grew from cloth diapers and bottles to all things baby. The response from local women has been tremendous. Kerth said customer feedback helps her decide what to continue buying, what to drop and what to experiment with next.

She recently placed an order for a collection of nursing and maternity apparel called Everly Grey. Kerth said the line offers comfortable, quality fabrics and practical designs. One of her favorites is a five-piece set that includes a maternity/nursing top, pant, robe, matching newborn gown and drawstring giftbag. Another popular item is a gown meant to be worn in the hospital that comes with a matching outfit for the baby.

As a mom of two, Kerth said she strives to bring reliable, functional pieces to the store.

“My advice would be whatever you buy, make sure you’re buying quality because it doesn’t matter how cheap it is if it doesn’t hold up throughout your pregnancy,” she said. “Maternity clothes cost more for a reason, you need them to stretch and still hold their shape.”

Kerth suggests that all pregnant women invest in a belly band, designed to act as a shield that goes over the tummy and keep pants closed. The ones at Sprout feature a grip strip to hold the band in place so expecting moms can avoid tugging at or adjusting the band throughout the day.

She also recommends buying simple tops so women can mix and match non-maternity items like jackets, cardigans and scarves into their wardrobe to keep ensembles looking fresh and updated without having to buy a whole closet full of maternity garments.

Erica Gebke, owner of As They Grow, a consignment shop on Center Grove Drive in Dubuque, said most women don’t want to break the bank on maternity clothing because they know they’ll only wear it for a few months. And even those who have multiple children often find themselves needing seasonal clothing at different points in their pregnancies.

When the store opened in 2014, it carried a small selection of maternity items. But Gebke said customers kept asking for more. Since then, they shop has expanded twice, and its maternity selection has grown, too.

Working with a consignment shop like As They Grow offers postpartum mothers a place to sell their gently-used maternity items and gives them a second life.

Gebke’s store carries a variety of maternity clothing styles, including dresses, nursing tanks, sweaters, pants, nursing bras and pumping bras. Items must be in exceptional condition to be accepted. Gebke said consignors bring in a mix of traditional and trendy pieces, offering shoppers options based on their personal style.

“The maternity clothes now days are so trendy, if you’re looking to stay in the current trends, they have that,” she said.

Sprout and As They Grow both carry upscale dresses to help outfit pregnant women who need to attend formal affairs, like weddings or conferences.

Gebke said she and her team are always happy to help clients put together outfits for special occasions or just navigate the unfamiliar world of maternity.

Emily Klein Shedek is a former Telegraph Herald reporter and freelance writer.

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