TORONTO -- Three months into a pregnancy, most women can't wait to shop for new wardrobes to display their bulging bellies. But that excitement used to be replaced with disappointment a few months later, when even the most stylish women were forced to wear dresses that could double as tents. That was then. Now, thanks to a new generation of designers, moms-to-be can wear clothes that make them feel beautiful but also accommodate a ripening shape.
"It was all big bows and smock tops. They were completely made to look like little girls," said Shery Leeder, president of Bravado Designs, a Toronto-based label that designs maternity and nursing bras, panties and sleepwear.
It was a bizarre irony: A pregnant woman, undeniable proof of sexual activity, was supposed to look like a virginal little girl. It's no wonder yesteryear's mothers in waiting sat around the house in big trapezoid-shaped clothes with pilgrim collars or bows, a daiquiri in one hand and a cigarette in the other.
The change may have begun when actor Demi Moore revealed her naked pregnant voluptuousness on the cover of Vanity Fair a little more than a decade ago.
Designers followed her lead and decided to celebrate the distinctly womanly shape: Empire-waist dresses with necklines that made the most of a fuller bustline, leggings that allowed lean legs to shoot out from under tunics.
Also, the women having babies weren't kids fresh out of high school or college as in generations past. More and more women were delaying pregnancy until they'd settled into career paths.
These new moms needed clothes that were comfortable and looked presentable in board rooms and meetings. As well, they had their own money to spend on clothes.
And those clothes evolved from flattering and fashionable to flaunting with flair. Women, who had worked to sculpt and tone their bodies, were now relishing their growing girth.
In 2000, Madonna's 40-plus heavily gravid belly could hardly be contained between a tight T-shirt and dangerously low-rise cargo pants.
Last year at Toronto Fashion week the Eve maternity line featured body-hugging clothes with the belly cut away to reveal, as the designer called it, "a womb with a view." More recently a beautifully fecund Brooke Shields graced the cover of April's Vogue magazine wearing a sheer, wet gown.
While Madonna, Shields or any pregnant woman brave enough to wear bare-belly designs is a testament to how the fashion world has come to accept this female form, there are still many women who just want to look nice.
And there are many designers who want to outfit them.
"Every year it seems to get better and better," said Yvonne O'Hara, half of the designing duo making up Minnow Maternity. "It's amazing what you can do with stretch fabric."
The Minnow philosophy seems to be that what women wore before they were pregnant is probably the same look they want during their 40-week expansion. If you wore low-rise jeans you'll want to wear them while pregnant.
In addition to high-rise and low-rise pants, the line also carries a pant with a waistline that can be folded down for a low rise or for comfort.
"You don't have to hide it," said O'Hara. "Let's face it, for a lot of women it's the tightest you'll ever have your belly."
A few years after the line was launched in 1992, Leeder realized that some women wanted to wear bikini underwear throughout their pregnancy. A millisecond later she came to the same conclusion about thongs.
The bras are all sports-type so the weight is distributed over the back, not concentrated on the shoulder straps, and they are designed to expand. They are available with matching panties in white, blush, black, leopard print, polka dot and floral.
"You've got new breasts," Leeder says. "Why not flaunt it?"