Postpartum Party Dresses
The Advice Smackdown question queue is littered with variations of the same, desperate question: I just had a baby and have to go to a wedding/holiday party/fancy gala/ball at the prince’s castle. I need to breastfeed/pump/hide the belly/not feel like I just had a baby. WHAT DO I WEAR?
I was hit with this conundrum both times. Multiple times. My babies arrived in the early fall and then next two or three months were chock full of charity events and holiday parties and I hardly ever get invited anywhere to begin with, so I was already behind the eight ball when it came to figuring out flattering, dress-code appropriate options. Add in my new boobs and curves and the need for either regular access to said boobs and/or a really serious bra and nursing pads AND a grabby infant who was perfectly willing to flash the entire neighborhood…and suddenly my go-to spaghetti-strap body-clinging Little Black Dress wasn’t going to cut it. So what do you WEAR when you’re newly postpartum or nursing (or both) and you absolutely, 100% cannot wear sweatpants?
I think what throws a lot of women is the belief that oh! I should wear a dress explicitly designed for nursing. And they Google “nursing cocktail dresses” and find a lot of super-expensive (yet not-super-awesome) options. I mean, I’m sorry, but two months after giving birth there was NO WAY I was going to head out in a skin-tight maternity dress designed to let me breastfeed my baby THROUGH THE ARMPITS.
That said, it doesn’t hurt to rifle through your maternity wardrobe — a lot of the nicer brands are designed to get a second lease on life as nursing wear these days. If you packed up anything you outgrew in the second trimester, you might be surprised at how non-maternity it looks without a belly underneath, and how nursing-friendly the bodice is. If you don’t have anything, ask around. Like nice maternity winter coats, cocktail and evening dresses don’t necessarily get worn that often. If any of your friends went to a wedding or office party within a year of giving birth, chances are they have something they can lend you.
Because, of course, if you DIDN’T splurge and treat yourself to a nice maternity dress or two during pregnancy, the last thing that would make sense is to go and spend a couple hundred dollars on a “nursing/maternity” dress NOW. So…unless you’re planning on another pregnancy in the fairly near future, step away from the trendy maternity/nursing-wear websites.
But before you run to your favorite store and grab the first plunging neckline and/or billowy waistline you see, give it a critical eye for future tailoring. If you’ve still got baby weight to lose, who wants to end up with an fancy party dress that will ultimately end up being one or two sizes too big? Get something you can get tailored and taken in once your boobs and…well, everything else…go back to “normal.”
Okay! Let’s ooh and ahh over some dresses. These are totally just EXAMPLES, by the way, of styles that I think are particularly flattering in the right places, or have the right-ish sort of neckline for nursing, pumping or just generally allowing for the supportive undergarments that breastfeeding boobs require.
(And of course, be sure to revisit the Price Tag Cage Match on shapewear garments that our dear Isabel wrote when I was, in fact, uber-newly postpartum and wearing nothing but sweatpants.)
Silk taffeta ruffle wrap dress, JCrew.com
If you do visit a “nursing wear” website or five, you’ll see that wrap dresses are by far the most popular style. And with good reason — they’re incredibly flattering for curvy, hourglass types, show cleavage that’s sexy but not pr0ny, and allow easy access to le boobs with just the loosening of a sash. I like this dress by JCrew more than most of the options out there, however, because of the fabric choice. Unlike the stretchy, form-fitting rayon most of the nursing/maternity dresses are made of, this dress has a nice gathered waist to better hide a postpartum pooch AND would be much easier to take in once you stop nursing and your boobs shrink. (And while the sale colors are nice, I freaking LOVE that silvery grayish pewter shade. Add some yellow gemstones or a canary yellow and black clutch? Eeeeee! So cute.)
Faux-wrap shirred dress, Banana Republic
That said, there is NOTHING wrong with flaunting postpartum curves. NOTHING. The shirring on this dress is in just the right place to provide a little camo…but the overall cut of the dress is so classic and clean you certainly don’t look like you’re trying to hide anything. Bonus points for being another dress with some freaking sleeves, too. I’m not sure if the “faux-wrap” part means that the bodice is sewn shut, but if you do encounter that and need to nurse, you can always yank out the seam and then wear an easily-removable brooch to keep the top accessible yet gap-free.
Twist wrap dress, Banana Republic
A combination of the previous two: a crisscross v-neck is perfect for nursing, a fuller skirt and ruching hides what you want to hide, the bright color is great for announcing to a room that while you just had a baby, you certainly aren’t planning to blend into the wall. (Though tailoring this one down might be a bit more difficult and/or costly.)
Chiffon tuxedo ruffle dress, Ann Taylor Loft
One word: buttons. I mean, DUH. Any dress with buttons hits the nursing jackpot. It could be anything from a classic shirtdress to a cardigan-style sweater dress, but for a more fancy occasion I love this one. And again, ruching + belly = post-baby win. You’d probably need to do a test run to make sure the top has enough “give” to let you actually get a boob out, but keep in mind that buttons don’t have to always mean a shirt and skirt to be practical.
Luella knit dress, Nordstrom
So for all my attempts to discreetly nurse in tops and dresses that had secret flaps and slits or pulled up and off to the side…my favorite clothes to nurse in were totally the ones with a simple elastic neckline, loose enough to just get yanked down in a single motion, along with my bra. This year, with all the big voluminous tops and dolman sleeves, you can find a lot of similar necklines, which are always good for the bigger busted or hourglass figured. Bring a delicate crocheted shawl or wrap for tossing over your shoulder and decolletage while you nurse.