More pregnant women in Singapore aspire to look stylish and even flaunt their growing bellies, instead of hiding under baggy clothes.
Retailers around the world, notably online merchants, are catching on to the cultural change driven by career women and delayed childbearing.
More women are working through their pregnancies, which means they need clothes suitable for work. Later pregnancies also mean a rise in spending power.
To capitalise on this, retailers are expanding their maternity lines, keeping styles more up to date and roping in celebrities to design collections.
Online fashion retailer Asos recently expanded its maternity collection to include petite and tall sizes.
A maternity dress on the site can cost between $26 for a simple black tunic and $282 for an embellished evening maxi dress.
American maternity label A Pea In The Pod has used celebrity power to burnish its fashion status.
German model Heidi Klum and American television personality Nicole Richie have released collections under the label in the last two years.
Klum, 43, had just given birth to her fourth child when she designed her line, while Richie, 35, was expecting her second child when she created her range.
In Singapore, labels are also seeing an increase in demand for fashionable maternity wear.
Home-grown company Maternity Exchange, a maternity clothes store and website that sells and rents its clothes, saw sales increase by about 20 per cent from 2014 to last year. The brand was founded in 2005.
Its director Deborah Ng says expectant mothers today are more aware of trendy maternity wear.
“They look for clothes that fit better, instead of wearing normal clothing in bigger sizes where the proportions at the shoulders and hips may not fit.”
She adds: “Many expectant mothers are also working in the corporate sector and require decent clothes to keep them looking professional.”
Singapore label Spring Maternity saw a yearly sales increase of about 12 per cent from 2013 to last year for its in-house maternity apparel.
Its founder Joey Kwa says: “Pregnant women want to retain their sense of self and wear styles similar to what they liked pre-pregnancy.”
Noting that trends in office clothing have become more smart casual than formal, the label has incorporated fun geometric prints and bright colours such as emerald in its collection. This allows customers to pick outfits that are “less serious or severe and a little more fun”, she says.
Fast-fashion label H&M declines to disclose sales figures for its maternity line, but Ms Abby Wee, public relations manager for H&M Singapore and Malaysia, says it has been “doing well” and the label hopes to extend the range.
The maternity collection has been available in Singapore since 2011.
Ms Wee says: “Our trousers are designed for pregnant ladies and come with a band that goes over the belly. They are our most popular pieces.” Maternity boyfriend cut jeans from H&M cost $59.90.
Retail experts also point out that an increasing demand for fashionable maternity wear can be a good thing for the retail industry.
Dr Seshan Ramaswami, associate professor of marketing education at Singapore Management University, says: “In these challenging times for retailers, every new, uncovered segment is a small opportunity to keep sales growing.”
He attributes the increase in demand to a few factors.
Many Singaporean women work till they deliver, which means they need clothing that are suitable for the office.
Later pregnancies also mean women have more savings and thus more spending power, he notes.
Those who plan to have only one child may also indulge and treat themselves to more clothes during their only pregnancy.
Private investor Eve Pek, 31, who is eight months pregnant with her first child, says she still makes the effort to dress up even though being pregnant means being tired and vomiting a lot. Maternity leggings are one of her favourite pieces.
“Maybe it is because I’m hiao,’’ she says, using the Hokkien word for “vain”.
“But I feel that, just because you’re pregnant, it doesn’t mean you have to look ugly.”
Feeling cheery in bright hues
Wearing bright colours cheers up real estate agent Vivian Khor, 26, and motivates her to leave the house.
Six months pregnant with her first child, she says although it is not easy, she makes the effort to dress up.
"I still go out. I still have dates with my husband and with my friends, and I want to look nice. At home, you just feel so terrible all the time. You need some days to look good."
Ms Khor, whose husband works in marketing in the oil and gas industry, started wearing more maternity clothes after the first trimester.
"I used to like wearing a lot of pants and high-waisted bottoms, but those don't fit now."
Since her baby bump has grown, she has been wearing more dresses and A-line skirts which she buys at Australian label Temt and home- grown online retailer Love, Bonito.
She says: "I tend to buy clothes that can fit me now while I'm pregnant and which I can wear again after pregnancy."
This means picking clothes that are more form-fitting and not too girly so that they fit her style.
• Having solid blocks of bold colours can add fun to an outfit.
• Sticking to two or three contrasting colours keeps the look from being too messy.
• Vertical stripes can also help to visually lengthen one's body.
"I would rather show off my shape. That way, people will know that I'm pregnant and not just fat."
As e-commerce and international shipping make it easier for fashion- savvy women to get their hands on a wider variety of maternity wear, she also thinks that retailers here can do more to attract stylish mothers-to-be.
"The maternity wear here is sometimes too frumpy, the clothes look too auntie-ish. They have a lot of baby-doll dresses where the skirts flare out, but I don't like them because they look too cute."
She adds: "If there were more trendy maternity wear available here, I would definitely be interested."
Wearing mum's dress to a film gala
Dressing up for a gala can be tough. And it is even tougher when you are five months pregnant.
Singapore actress Ateeqah Mazlan, who is almost eight months into her first pregnancy, says her recent red-carpet experience while expectant was her first and last.
"It was really difficult. They don't make red-carpet maternity clothes for people who wear the hijab," says the 27-year-old, who started wearing the traditional Muslim headdress a year ago. "I wore my mum's dress. I got a friend to help me put on some sequins and sew on some cut-out fabric to make it look more appealing."
She was attending a film gala and says the experience was a hassle.
To top it off, she could not stay to mingle after the event because she ripped the back of the dress.
"I was sitting down after a toilet break near the end of the event and the dress tore at the back."
But the stage and television actress, who is married to Singapore DJ Effen, says she still pushes herself to dress well daily.
"When you're pregnant, you feel so hot and tired. Most of the time, I feel lazy and want to stay home, but putting in the extra effort to dress up makes me feel good and motivates me to go out. And that makes it worth it."
She says she cannot bring herself to wear the more traditional hijab dresses because their straight cuts and tent-like shape make her look like a "makcik" - Malay for auntie.
• Dresses that cut just below the bust line and are more flowy towards the legs help create an illusion of length.
• They should still hug the waist to keep the overall silhouette looking slim and not too overwhelmed by fabric.
• Fabrics such as cotton or linen are preferred as they are lightweight and keep the wearer cool.
"I love wearing clothes that accentuate my bump - either something fitting or, if it's loose, it should still hug my waist."
Ms Mazlan, who buys clothes from H&M, Zalora and Dorothy Perkins, says she wears figure-hugging skirts to show off her belly.
"As much as I don't want to accentuate my figure, I can't hide my belly. So I'll wear a cardigan with a figure- hugging skirt and the outfit looks modest, but my belly still shows and people can tell I'm pregnant."
She is expecting a son and says flaunting her baby bump also helps prevent people from bumping into her.
"Many people look into their phones while walking. Showing off my belly makes them more aware of me, so they won't collide with me."
Looking sporty, less heavy
Most women start covering up as they progress in their pregnancy, but private investor Eve Pek says being pregnant means women get to show off their belly.
"It's the only time you can wear tighter dresses without being judged for having a belly," says the 31-year-old, who is eight months pregnant with her first child.
Her husband is a private investor as well.
Dressing up is a psychological boost for her. "If you go out looking nicer, it makes you feel more confident."
Though she has bought maternity wear in Singapore, she feels there could be more variety.
She wore maternity pants that she bought online for a while after the first trimester, but has since stopped as they are too restrictive and make her feel nauseous.
She has found that maternity leggings from Muji, which a friend bought for her from Japan, are comfortable and they ride up till just under the bust line for adequate support.
The Japanese label does not carry the leggings in its stores here.
She buys clothes from Zara and Cotton On, picking dresses made from stretchy material such as cotton.
Look active even when you are not
• Overalls should not be too baggy at the hips and legs as that may make one look bigger.
• Add a sporty touch to the ensemble by wearing a cap or tying up the hair.
• A side braid can help to frame the face and hide puffiness.
"I like shirt dresses too, which I can get from Muji. Those match my pre-pregnancy style and worn now, they just look tighter."
To dress up plainer outfits, she adds a colourful scarf to give the look a fresh vibe.
"I like simple styles. For example, a black cotton T-shirt dress or a plain shift dress. But these can look dull when you're pregnant and puffy. So you have to spice up the look."
She also likes wearing overalls, and says tying up her hair and wearing a cap are essential to completing the look.
"I try to look less heavily pregnant by looking more sporty. I already walk like a penguin so I should at least try to look more hip."
Picking pencil skirts to lengthen the body
For Ms Winnie Soon, wearing fashionable clothes helps her feel less conscious about the 10kg she has gained over the five months of her first pregnancy.
The petite 25-year-old, an associate manager in hotel development, looks for dresses that end above the knee for a more flattering silhouette and also favours clothes with sleeves. These help to "hide your flabby arms", she says.
She buys clothes from Uniqlo, Cotton On and online retailer Zalora, looking out for comfortable, stretchy bottoms and looser dresses made of cotton or a thin knit.
Also, she chooses more contemporary styles that will not make her look frumpy.
"I don't want the typical maternity clothes with ribbons at the back. I go for T-shirt dresses and pencil skirts because I think they look younger."
Price also plays a part in her decisions. She is inclined to buy cheaper clothes as she is unlikely to wear them again.
She says: "Maternity is a short-term thing."
But Ms Soon, whose husband is a director at a construction firm, says she still wants to look stylish.
"Of course, I want to look good. I'm only 25. I still make an effort to put on make-up and dress up a bit."
• Tighter midi-length pencil skirts help to accentuate the bump and visually elongate the body.
• A belt worn just above the bump can also help create the illusion of a waistline.
But changes in her style choices are inevitable. Her footwear, for example.
"I used to wear high heels every day. But they've been retired to my storeroom for now."
She adds that her feet swell at times and heels can be uncomfortable. They are also bad for the back and knees.
"I wear flats from the brand Melissa. They are a great alternative because they don't look cheap and are very comfortable and cute," she says.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 13, 2016, with the headline 'Belly bold and beautiful'. Print Edition | Subscribe
We have been experiencing some problems with subscriber log-ins and apologise for the inconvenience caused. Until we resolve the issues, subscribers need not log in to access ST Digital articles. But a log-in is still required for our PDFs.