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MacGuyver Maternity: Five Steps to Extending Your Non-Maternity Wardrobe Throughout Your Pregnancy

By Amalah

pregnancy calendarWait, what’s that peestick say? You’re pregnant? Well, congratulations! And welcome to first trimester hell. Dun dun dun.

You don’t need maternity clothing yet. You don’t want to tell everybody — or maybe even anybody — yet.

And yet…

Your waistband is cinching and your belly is bulging and your boobs are threatening to annex into Canada. So now what? Maternity clothes? Already? It’s tempting, in a rush of Shiny New Pregnancy Excitement, to switch to maternity wear as soon as possible — especially once you get a load of those PRICES, dear heavens. Buy it early and get your money’s full nine months’ worth, right? Well. No. Stuff you buy in the first trimester most likely will stop fitting sometime before the third trimester. And…it really won’t fit you in the first trimester either. You’ll look big and baggy and sloppy. Some people will be able to guess your first-trimester secret, while other people will just wonder if you’ve taken to drinking during the day, especially if they overhear you puking in the office bathroom.

Instead, save your money AND your professional reputation with these five simple steps to extending your non-maternity wardrobe — even all the way to the third trimester:

Step One: Make a searching and fearless inventory. Of your closet.

Trust me, you’ve got stuff in there that will work. Some pants in a slightly bigger size, perhaps. A flowy tunic. An empire-waist (or drop-waist) dress. Those super-stretchy low-rise jeans that always showed your butt crack but sit directly below your newly-acquired pooch and when paired with that long flowy tunic…huh! Look at that.

Try everything that has a little stretch or is a little big. Look for loooong, waistband-covering shirts. Yank fabric belts off dresses. Leave fitted shirts unbuttoned and cover them with a more generously cut jacket or sweater. If something doesn’t have a very defined waist, it’s MONEY, baby. Wear it.

Step Two: Get extra inches from your pants anyway you can.

Shirts and dresses tend to pose less of a problem for first-trimester bodies than pants. Oh, pants. How you taunt us by SO VERY NEARLY BUTTONING BUT NOT QUITE ALMOST GOT IT GAH MUFFIN TOP AHOY. Screw that. Wear long shirts — wear a minidress if you have to — and leave that top button undone or several inches unzippered.

Of course, you don’t want your pants to fall down, and you don’t want weird pointy corners of your fly sticking through your shirts. So…slip an elastic hair band (or a rubber band, for a longer extension) through any buttonhole you want to leave undone, looping the ends back over and around the button. I’m STILL using this trick with TWO WHOLE PAIRS of non-maternity jeans — both of which are low-rise with stretch, purchased a little before I lost that last bit of baby weight last time. AWESOME.

For dress pants that use a hook-and-eye closure, stick a safety pin on each side, and then close them around a small hair band. Sometimes all you really need is an extra inch or two, particularly for low- or high-rise pants that miss the bulk of your belly.

To smooth out any — ahem — bulging, you can shell out some money on a Bella Band. It’s an ultra-stretchy tube top that you wear over your unbuttoned waistband to help (sort-of) hold up your pants and hide the fact that yes, your waistband IS unbuttoned. It basically looks like a neutral tank top underneath your shirt, and while it does require a bit of adjusting now and again, it is extremely useful. (I wear mine postpartum as well, when I basically revert to all my first-trimester dressing tips all over again).

Or you could just wear an ultra-stretchy tube top. Yes.

Step Three: Extend your bras before you replace them.

I’ve written about this before, but your boobs won’t just have one big growth spurt early on. You’ll notice a LOT of changes in size throughout your pregnancy and then AGAIN after you give birth. And unless you really ENJOY spending a ton of money on bras you’ll wear for a month and then never again, you must be very selective about timing the inevitable new-bra purchases during pregnancy.

As a general rule: upgrade your bras when you’re spilling out of the cup, but EXTEND them when it’s the band size that seems too small. You can buy bra extenders at maternity stores extremely cheaply ($2.99 at Mimi Maternity, for example). Or if you’re the crafty sort, or simply have other plans for that $2.99, you can make them yourself. Find an old bra that you no longer want and cut off the hook and eye sections from the band. Tightly and securely sew the hook part to the back of the row of eyes. Use the hooks on the eyes of a bra you want to extend, then fasten it comfortably. Voila!

Step Four: Don’t be afraid to snip, hack & roll.

Control-top pantyhose cinching you a bit too much? Make a small cut in the waistband. Make a couple cuts. Roll non-maternity leggings down below your belly. Yank underwires out of your bras. Got some too-small maternity hand-me-downs? Cut belly panels. Snip around the armpits and bust region and use as a layering shirt. When your body shape changes drastically overnight, you can’t be afraid to just grab the scissors and force a little breathing room out of your cheaper, more replaceable clothes.

Step Five: There’s no law that says you MUST. WEAR. MATERNITY.

The very word “maternity” garners a HUGE price premium (perhaps I shall charge double my going rate for simply mentioning it in this column!), so if you must make purchases during your first trimester, you will save more money in the long run by finding workable options in non-maternity stores. With my first pregnancy, I refused to listen to this advice, reasoning that it made so much more sense to buy maternity stuff right off the bat since I would need it anyway. Why not get the most wear out of it? Well….I didn’t, really. What fit (sort of) in the first trimester was ALL WRONG for me by the end of the second. I waited longer this time, for the most part, but STILL have a handful of expensive maternity tops that just aren’t long enough to cover my third-trimester, fully-popped-and-high-high-up belly.

It’s also tempting to assume that true maternity styles will be more flattering than regular clothes in the next size up, but honestly this isn’t always true either. There’s still an awful lot of pink, crazy-patterned tent-like outfits in the maternity section, and with the current trends and styles being long and generous and non-waisted, you’ll be able to find regular clothing that works without the maternity mark-up.

My essentials have generally NOT been from the maternity section — packs of men’s undershirts, for example, have extended my wardrobe more than any other purchase. They’re stretchy and long — waaay longer than any tank from the women’s section and waaay cheaper than any tank from the maternity section. They’ve saved me from wasting money on maternity pajamas and allowed me to keep slightly-too-short shirts in my regular rotation for months.

When I realized that you could, in fact, pay OVER ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS for a single pair of maternity leggings, I hit the pajama department at Old Navy and found stretchy leggings that covered my belly AND were cheap enough to cut (a la Step Four) and extend (a la Step Two, using a bit of elastic from a worn-out pair of lounge pants and some safety pins) without a second thought. I’m still wearing a sack-like minidress from H&M — I used to wear it with leggings, now it’s more of a shirt to wear with actual pants — that cost a FRACTION of what an identical “maternity” version would have cost.

Sure, I’ve treated myself to some beautiful maternity clothing. There are even a few things I’ll be terribly sad to pack up at the end of this pregnancy. But I’m also keenly aware of the fact that SOMEHOW the human race survived and procreated for years and years before the recent boom in maternity fashion.

You can’t always predict how your pregnancy will progress and show, so it’s best to just take a deep breath and admit that you may end up buying clothes just for the final two months, and that’s *breathes* OKAY. Avoiding public nudity is not a luxury, you know? And if you need to work up until your due date, you deserve to have clothing that fully covers those last couple inches of your belly. So do your coworkers, come to think of it.

Don’t forget to visit Amalah’s Weekly Pregnancy Calendar.


If you’re considering an online baby registry, we recommend Amazon’s Baby Registry, which offers free 90-day returns on baby store purchases. You can even add items from other websites onto to your baby registry.

Amazon Baby Registry 1

Published August 14, 2008. Last updated March 27, 2018.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Liz

    August 14, 2008 at 10:12 am

    I totally agree with this! This is pregnancy #2 for me as well, and once we’re in cooler weather, I should be able to rewear most of my stuff from #1 (am 3 months earlier than last time around). So I’ve just been trying to make it through the heat, and have been amazed at what I’ve been able to get at Target in their non-maternity section. Elastic-waist skirts, tunic/long flowy tops, stretchy dresses.

  • SSU

    August 14, 2008 at 10:29 am

    My mom bought me a few things when I was about 19 weeks along. I didn’t break these out until 21 weeks – and then only some of it. One thing she did buy me that I loved through the whole pregnancy was very stretchy maternity tank tops. I used under my maternity tops because they were all too low cut for me. They also allowed me to wear non-maternity button downs and sweaters because I could leave them open.

  • Isabel

    August 14, 2008 at 11:45 am

    As always you share some great tips.
    I was lucky enough to be given tons of hand me downs when I was pregnant. I also bought tons of stuff on sale at Macy’s and Old Navy. For some reason, I just lucked out at the sale racks.
    (Maternity clothing is such a worry that I’m actually planning on getting pregnant during the same season so I can rewear the stuff from my first pregnancy and not have to worry about buying new stuff for a different season. Yes, I’m that big of a nerd!)

  • Ms. Huis Herself

    August 14, 2008 at 1:10 pm

    Don’t forget to shop your local consignment stores and/or rummage/garage sales for good deals, too. Sometimes you can find beautiful stuff on consignment for a fraction of new prices… and the garage sale stuff is usually cheap enough you don’t care if you only wear it a few times before you outgrow it.
    (Plus, you know, reusing stuff is good for the environment instead of _always_ purchasing new.)

  • LeggyNic

    August 14, 2008 at 2:00 pm

    I love all of these tips. I hadn’t tried the men’s tank tops yet but I’ve just about grown out of the XL Women’s camis I bought in week 10.
    Being over 6′ I have problems with pants to begin with and have had a lot of luck finding tall maternity, work-worthy pants at JCPenney online for cheap (under $35). They’re sale section is great too with t-shirts for $6! Great for everyday, weekend throw it in the wash a zillion times.
    Any advice about shoes during the 3rd Tri swelling?

  • Lisa M

    August 14, 2008 at 2:44 pm

    I love using men’s tanks! I used them with my first pregnancy, but they are so stretchy, that I still used the same ones for months after. They didn’t survive the “4th trimester” of my second pregnancy (damn GERD), but at $7 for a pack of 3, I stocked back up. I love them in summer to layer with other tanks, or under sweaters in the winter. I can’t get enough.

  • Helen

    August 14, 2008 at 4:17 pm

    @ LeggyNic: my feet and legs were so swollen that I had to just give up on anything resembling style or pretty and wear tennis shoes and Jobst support stockings every day. Every. Day. For 3 months. At least it was winter.

  • jonniker

    August 14, 2008 at 5:34 pm

    Several things:
    – Thank you for the bra tips. Am in armpit-boob territory, but KNOW these suckers are going to grow and I’m at ELEVEN WEEKS, so really, buying new bras now isn’t something I’m way into.
    – I’m loving (nay, ADORING) the maternity-friendly wear available in regular stores. Who the hell wears this stuff without being pregnant is beyond me, but all of the empire-waisted tops and flowy shirts are my BFF right now. Gap Outlet has some great stuff on sale for CHEAP (like $5 a shirt, no kidding) and it’s all belly-friendly.
    – Can someone at some point explain, for the love of God, the Panel Mystery? Why so many panel options? What the hell’s the difference, and why is one better than the other? Demi. Full. Secret Belly. Semi-demi (no, I’m not making that up). Roll. Back panel. No panel. Fake panel. Invisible panel. Printed panel with Jesus’s face on it.
    What. The. Hell. Buying a pair of jeans just became hilariously complicated.

  • silene

    August 14, 2008 at 11:13 pm

    Love it–although I will likely not need the tips ever again (sob!).
    I work Target t-shirts throughout my pregnancy–just went up a size (or 2) as need be. And you know…I found that the belly-hugging tees were WAY more flattering than the tent-like maternity shirts. I still remember being in a Motherhood store during the end of my second trimester. I was wearing non-maternity clothes, and didn’t even really look pregnant (I started out overweight, so I just looked a little fatter). I tried on ONE maternity shirt, and bam! Instantly looked 9 months pregnant, and an ugly 9 months, too!
    I am sad, however, to pack up the awesome white shorts and cute navy blue top I got at Gap Maternity. I think I only got a month or two of wear out of those, but they were well worth the price, since they were really flattering.

  • Leah

    August 15, 2008 at 1:58 pm

    I got some really good stuff on eBay too! Pregnant or not, pants are too difficult to buy without trying them on, but I got a ton of great shirts (mostly Gap and Old Navy) at great prices and with free shipping.

  • Liz

    August 15, 2008 at 2:41 pm

    Clearance and sales racks at Gap have been my best friends. The turnover there is so quick, that it’s useless to buy anything new there when it’s just going to be half price the following week. You can get lots of stuff for $7-$30. I couldn’t find a thing there towards the end of winter when I was first looking, but their summer stuff has been cute. It’s a little hit or miss, but Gap Maternity’s sale rack became a staple for me in the 2nd and 3rd trimester.

  • charlotte

    August 18, 2008 at 7:24 pm

    Three words: Ross Dress For Less (okay, that was four). I bought my maternity jeans there for $14.95 and three other pairs of pants in various degrees of formal for about $9 a piece. They also have several nice maternity shirts in neutral colors–in fact, my entire maternity wardrobe to date, all of which I bought there, has cost me less than $100. Of course, I really really want a pair of shoes now that will fit my expanding feet … and they don’t come cheap.

  • MC

    January 2, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    I couldn’t agree more with the Ross thing. It’s been a life-saver! My one question is this… I’m 33 weeks along and pantyhose are NOT an option (even after the cutting and butchering)!! I opted for thigh-highs, but aparently even the biggest “one size fits all” (my a**!)are not big enough for my size 10 thighs. Any suggestions on a good brand of thigh-highs for someone who doesn’t want to pay a fortune since my dogs will more than likely eat them or snag them in a frenzy of “mommy loving” when I walk in from work?

  • alice

    February 5, 2013 at 3:18 am

    I am 14 weeks pregnant and after reading many blogs, decided to try out maternity jeans. So I bought the Morph maternity jeans. They are extremely comfortable and well-fitting. I am so glad I decided to give them a try.They are affordable too.

  • Kim

    November 6, 2013 at 11:27 pm

    So butcher shit you already own so it will be deemed worthless post birth to avoid buying maternity pants?

    I don’t see the money saving logic here. I’ve also never seen $100 maternity leggings.


    • Ella

      April 23, 2015 at 11:56 am

      Agreed with this 100%. I have no interest in jury-rigging the few comfortable clothes i own. It’s an expense we have to prepare for, just like all kinds of other pregnancy things. 

      I’ve never seen $100 maternity leggings either. 

  • Beth

    December 2, 2013 at 4:35 pm

    I’m 9 weeks pregnant and its either maternity clothes or not being able to fit into anything I own. I live in my husbands oversized t-shirts and my maternity jeans. I had 3 miscarriages so I had a couple leftover pairs of maternity pants I hid (I wasn’t supposed to get pregnant again) and a comfortable pair of leggings. It works especially being a plus sized girl and not wanting to go totally crazy with maternity clothes.

  • Anna

    November 15, 2014 at 11:27 am

    25 weeks pregnant and I cant find a pair of pajamas to sleep comfortable in. I dont know what to do, it only comes to mind to change the waistline of them. Still they are not long enough to cover my whole belly. any ideas?

  • Nikki

    January 27, 2015 at 4:48 pm

    I know this was posted a while ago but I felt like chiming in. I’m 11 weeks pregnant with my fourth kid (7 years after the last) so I’m completely starting over with maternity clothes. Here’s my take: Jeans that fit well are hard to find (especially for pear shaped women). Well fitting maternity jeans are even harder and the decent brands are insanely expensive. However, it’s really uncomfortable to wear unbuttoned jeans for very long. I would suggest that if you have any ounce of sewing ability, to sew some elastic in the sides of a regular pair. There are tutorials everywhere! Shirts and dresses are easy to find. I don’t worry about those. But pants, invest some time or money. It’s worth it!

  • Ella

    April 23, 2015 at 11:53 am

    Actually, I have no interest in trying to squeeze into my old clothes. 

    I’m very thin but I live with a GI disorder that makes me bloated ALL THE TIME and it’s only gotten worse since I’ve been pregnant. Pants that button AND aren’t huge everywhere else are, and have always been, a very difficult thing to find. 

    Comfort is a luxury for me. 

    I absolutely plan to lay down some dough on comfortable clothing. I’m 6 weeks right now and the bloating, gas and indigestion are so intense right now I’m already out of my regular pants and wearing exclusively stretchy, elastic waists. I haven’t gained any weight but for those of us with GI disturbances, you don’t need to gain weight for your clothes to get tight.

    I am not going to skimp on the most comfortable clothing I can find. I do NOT skimp on comfort in clothing. I don’t have that luxury. If ultimate comfort means ultimate price, then so be it. 

    And i think that philosophy can extend to people with normal digestion too – if it hurts to wear it, stop wearing it and buy/borrow the things you need. There are lots of great, cost-conscious ways to do this. But do it. Don’t be uncomfortable just for the sake of frugality. 

  • Samantha

    May 18, 2015 at 8:44 am

    @Anna, I know she’s well done with pregnancy now, but pajamas? LOL my door doesn’t lock or hardly shut, my 4 year old son sleeps in the room next to us (which you have to walk through my room to get to his) and I sleep almost nude. Panties/shirt. Shirt no panties, panties no shirt, no nothing. Pajamas, laughable.

    As for hacking into my clothes my husband woul MURDER me if he seen me sabatoge my “street” clothes. I have 2 pairs of black pants from working fast food and lost 20+lbs after buying them. The rest of my jeans are skinny jeans with VERY LITTLE growth in the waist, as I was still going down in size. I’m 10 weeks with #2 (1st wasn’t this bad at all) and when I sit I unbutton my pants. My panties are murdering me, next paycheck I’m buying materinty panties! They don’t cost anymore than my underwear I have now so I don’t feel guilty, I threw a pair in the trash last night because they pissed me off LOL, I am a slave to my emotions right now.

  • Becky Brock

    May 25, 2015 at 6:36 am

    My first 2 preggos I was not in my best mood to dress up chic but my third one, I learned my lesson well. Hubby find me more sexy preggo and still in my best fashion. Highly recommended to not slack around. Being pregnant is not an excuse. In my 2 cents that is.