Fashion Purgatory The Post Partum Year
Maham Uzair navigates a wardrobe crisis in the first year of motherhood.
When I was in my mid-twenties, I read an article that changed the way I shopped.
It was on building a sustainable capsule collection, a well-curated set of basics and wardrobe heroes that one could wear to work or play during the week like a fashion uniform. Included in this collection were faultless staples like a flattering pair of Diesel jeans in a wash and cut that meshed effortlessly with at least forty per cent of my wardrobe; structured culottes; classic white tees; and pared-down kurtas with minimalist embroidery, the sort you rarely get to see on today’s high street.
It took the whole of the twenties to fine-tune, but I had finally developed the perfect, basic wardrobe. Now, at thirty, I felt I could invest in statement pieces to lend that ‘je ne sais quoi’ to those basics.
Then I got pregnant.
And while motherhood is deeply gratifying, as a post-partum, exclusively breastfeeding mum, my new body revolting against my wardrobe took me by surprise.
It could be naiveté, but I was so determined to fit into my pre-pregnancy clothes, I’d convinced myself a slightly bigger pair of high-rise trousers was all I needed after having a baby. I’d assumed a natural transition from a pregnancy wardrobe to my pre-pregnancy collection. The baby was out, after all, and the bump would depress soon enough, residual pregnancy weight shedding quickly with resumed Zumba sessions.
But when my favourite kurta kept riding up uncomfortably and a beloved t-shirt wouldn’t slide down past the shoulders three months post-partum, I was flummoxed, to say the least. I hadn’t really gained significant amounts of weight and my body wasn’t radically different from a year ago, but something had shifted and I had a gargantuan task ahead of me in terms of rediscovering what suited me now as opposed to the pre-baby years. And that new project would have to be worked in with a new schedule (or lack thereof), a baby in tow and very little sleep.
And folks, as my baby girl turns nine months, I’m still struggling. The post-pregnancy months have made even my most coveted designer pieces look like something one has picked up from a bargain-basement hunt. Bereft of my wardrobe, I stare enviably at girls in their early twenties, pulling off mom jeans ironically, or more settled women, with pre-school kids, who are able to walk out of their homes in creaseless kurtas.
Not everyone’s body responds the same way to pregnancy, of course. Some women bounce back instantly to their previous size, while others celebrate their new figures. Many deal with the physical changes with graceful, calm acceptance: your body has been putting in some truly mind-blowing work to create life, after all.
And let’s face it. The post-partum period is testing as it is for new mums: surely the frivolity of fashion is insignificant when you’re nurturing a newborn? The outpouring of love, energy and self-sacrifice is gratifying, but exhausting in equal parts. To top it off, there is already so much societal and media pressure mounted on women with new babies.
Think about it: pregnancy and conception are both fraught with uncertainty. And once we’ve crossed that threshold, we’re inundated with unsolicited mothering advice from friends and family.
We have the world of Instagram where mummy influencers post images of themselves, basking in post-partum bliss. A recent one, for example, was of a famous London blogger with plumped up, post-facial skin, wearing en-trend broderie Anglaise blouses and
nursing her baby on a balcony in what resembled the Tuscan countryside. She looked more cherubic than her newborn.
And we also see a mad dash by the female CEOs and CTO’s of the boardroom – empowered women who should be the leading role models of the day – as they cut short maternity leave and return to work in top form while some of us mere mortals are struggling to add a shower to our to-do lists.
As mums, we shouldn’t take the percolating pressure very
personally, but in dark, uncharted waters of motherhood, somehow we do. So, it’s refreshing to hear designers prioritising comfort over fashion in the post-partum year. “A woman should always feel beautiful and comfortable in her own skin,” says Saneen Shishmahal, Senior Designer at Khaadi. “Everyone goes through a different experience with their post-partum body.”
Mashal Zawar, Designer at Sania Maskatiya has similar sentiments: “At the end of the day, your body has been through a very intense, but very beautiful process. Appreciate your body for supporting you.”
It’s a breath of fresh air to see designers championing body positivity, it really is. But what of women that are suddenly faced with someone new in the mirror and the shock to the system when you lose familiarity with the curves and contours of your own body? It’s disconcerting to lose that cog of identity, however small a facet it may be, not to mention the hours and money lost that were spent collecting loved pieces over the years.
Before the pregnancy I knew exactly how an outfit would fall on me: how the stiff cotton would structure itself and the silks would drape around me. Even if we’re strong, confident, ‘woke’, surely we’re allowed to mourn the loss of that self-awareness?
And I learned quickly it’s something a lot of women feel unhappy about. How you feel about yourself can be distressing, and even a driver towards perinatal depression. International Association for Women’s Mental Health, for example, found a positive association between body image dissatisfaction and the onset of perinatal and postpartum depression in 2015.
Of course, body image dissatisfaction encapsulates a breadth of serious issues. Recalibrating wardrobe choices ranks far below in a new mum’s struggle as she grapples with perceptions and body image.
But for those feeling out of sorts with their wardrobe, what would experts recommend?
Good advice, it turns out, comes in fours.
Dressing for your happiness is key, it turns out, and a sizeable chunk of that is dressing for comfort. “Comfort and convenience should be at the top of the list,” Zawar says. This means if you’re breastfeeding, it’s essential to opt for clothes that make breastfeeding easier. She adds: “Choose shirts with buttons or even front zips that make it easier to feed, rather than scrunching up your shirt and squeezing in your child from underneath.”
Areej Aka, mother of a five-year-old, revisits her experience and agrees, “Flowy, loosely hanging materials were perfect for comfortable dressing. I loved button-downs and bought them in chiffons and silks, because you worried less about creasing when stepping out.”
But while convenience and comfort is crucial, what sort of necklines and silhouettes work best in the post-partum year? Both Zawar and Shishmahal agreed feeling comfortable in your own skin could mean staying away from fashion trends and going with what works best.
“It’s not always important to push oneself to be fearless with dressing. Sticking to one’s ‘zen’ zone is totally okay after going through such an amazing journey,” says Shishmahal.
This is something Aka agrees with too. “I really love fashion, but comfort was key for that first post-partum year. After my baby hit one I was back to following the recent trends.”
Are there any sartorial tips for necklines and silhouettes?
“For eastern wear, if you don’t wear scarves or dupattas, I would advise against a big round neck, because it can make your outfit look incomplete,” Zawar continues. “Boat necks would be a better option and give a sharper look”.
Sania Sarim, mum of twin boys relates her experience of premature birth and subsequent apparel choices. “My boys were born premature, so I never gained much weight, but when the boys arrived, my sleep schedule and eating patterns were suddenly disrupted,” She says. “I started eating unnecessary foods and gained weight post-partum.”
Although Sarim mostly wore ‘ponchos, tunics and smocked tops on skinny jeans’, Zawar’s tip for eastern pret resonates with her. She says she was more inclined towards wearing wide necks, slash necks and boat necks. “Wide necks and boat necks accentuated and elongated the neck region, taking focus towards my face,” adds Sarim.
A lot of mothering websites and mummy networks advise going up a size or two. Does it always work and is it something designers recommend?
Zawar interjects, “Rather than going a size up, it would be better to choose cuts that aren’t fitted. By going a size up, you will also compromise on your shoulder size, sleeve length, which will be unflattering and will make you look shabby.”
She advises trying box cuts, kurta cuts and playing around with hem lengths. The kind of trousers a new mother pairs her top with should also keep things ‘interesting’.
Is it safer to opt for prints or choose colour-blocking and solid colours? That’s completely subjective, both designers agree.
“With a new child, you’re not going to have as much time as you did previously for grooming, “ says Zawar. “Solids tend to give a neater look than prints.”
However, she quickly clarifies that your choices of colours, patterns don’t really matter and ‘it is essentially a judgment call’ that individuals have to make for themselves’.
These tips about post-pregnancy dressing take me back to spring season this year when in a mad dash to hoard some new pieces, I’d picked up a puff sleeve blouse, two sizes up. Not only did I make the mistake of buying a size bigger, I also learned only after tearing off the tags that puff sleeves look awful on me. Grappling with shifting identity, I was desperate and making terrible decisions to boot.
So, here’s a little tip of my own that I’d wish I’d known sooner. None of it really matters, although these are all great guidelines. If you want to wear embellishments and think it’s comfortable enough, go ahead. If you want to opt for frills and ruffles, do that. Go bold, add patterns and be flamboyant or wear something classic and boxy in solid colours. But if you want to make smart investment decisions for a new self, you need space and time sans baby to find the flattering silhouettes and colours for the new you.
We need to be nurturing, grateful and comfortable while navigating motherhood, but we’re also entitled to feeling confounded by the shifting plates of identity. So, if you sense a new wardrobe will help you feel happier, it’s important to take time off for yourselves and hit the shops. Bearing in mind the guidelines of post-partum dressing, have a grandparent, partner or hired help take care of baby while you figure out what works for you. And if you don’t find something you like perusing the latest season, make a trip to the tailor and fashion a bespoke piece.
But don’t go out for too long. Even if your little one hasn’t stirred since you left, the pangs of separation will hit you soon enough, believe me!