Wedding season is just around the corner, and finding the right maternity formal wear might be stressing you out. Shopping for a beautiful gown is usually plenty of fun, but when you're expecting, finding something that fits, looks good and is comfortable can be a difficult combination to achieve - especially if your budget is tight.
If you shop creatively, keep an open mind and are willing to try on anything - even if the style is something you normally wouldn't wear - you may be surprised by what looks good on you. So whether you're headed to a wedding, a cocktail party, a charity event or any other formal special occasion, remember to follow these Dos and Don'ts and you'll be just fine.
After all, looking great in a gown is your birth right!
* Use Your Imagination. Pair a plain empire-waisted chiffon gown with dazzling gold sandals and a loose updo and suddenly you're a Grecian goddess. Opt for a sixties-style sheath dress with gloves and pearls and before you know it you're channelling Audrey Hepburn. Maternity formal wear is whatever you make it!
* Stick to the Basics. You can't go wrong in basic black. Neat and tidy navy is always a winner, too, even during the summer. Accessorize with big, bright and beautiful jewellery or even a hat and you've livened up something you thought might be too boring to consider.
* Celebrate Lycra... It's the New Black! All the new fabrics out there are not only soft and wrinkle-free, they're incredibly forgiving as well. Stretchy textiles like lycra, spandex and other blends are also convenient because they will grow with you and your belly, meaning you can shop earlier in your pregnancy for that special occasion, or even get more use out of what you buy because it will fit throughout 40 weeks and beyond.
* Borrow if You're On a Budget. If you're really only planning on getting one use out of your new dress - or can't find something simple that you think you might be able to wear again under more casual circumstances - ask around. Chances are, one of your friends or relatives has a nice piece of maternity formal wear they'd be only to happy to let out of the cedar closet. Note: You should never be desperate enough to wear something ugly, just because it's free (see "Don'ts"; below)
* Be A Little Bit Sexy. Just because Baby's on board doesn't mean you have to dress like a nun. Showing off that blossoming decollete or even rocking a little slit up the thigh can add intrigue to your maternity formal wear. Just make sure to follow the "cleavage or high hemline but never both" fashion rule, and get ready to be ogled!
* Wear a Shaper. Invest in good quality foundation garments, and you'll like a million bucks even if you're in a $50 frock. When it comes to what lies beneath, it's often worth it to blow your budget on the basics since you'll be able to wear that slinky little dress with pride, even if it's made of one of those flimsy but fabulous fabrics like silks or fine knits.
* Borrow the Wrong Thing Just Because it Fits. It's tempting to just throw in the towel and don that lime green paisley-print potato sack your sister-in-law wore to a bar mitzvah in 1997, but please refrain. Better to spend a few bucks on something and walk into that room with your head held high.
* Dress Like a Tent. Unfortunately, many purveyors of maternity formal wear still cling to the outdated notion that pregnant women need to be swathed in bolts and bolts of fabric to look suitably dressed up. The truth is, more modern cuts of formal wear may be harder to find, but they are certainly worth the effort. Style trumps coverage here, ladies - choose something that stands out for its design. Off-the shoulder, pleated, one-strap or bias-cut dresses beat shapeless muu-muus every time.
* Succumb to Infantile Style: Dressing like a little girl is probably the single biggest formal maternity-wear faux-pas out there. Shirley-Temple curls, sickly-sweet pastels, mary-jane flats, little-girl updos, pageant dresses, Peter-Pan collars and too many bows are the antitheses of modern formal maternity wear. Some people will even tell you polka-dots are a no-no for pregnant women, though the jury's still out on that one.
* Be Pressured Into Death by Stiletto. Face it: You're not Victoria Beckham. Few of us can pull off a five-inch heel, even when we're not carrying 40 extra pounds of boob, belly and butt to throw us off balance, so now's not the time to be teetering down that grand staircase. Maternity formal wear offers plenty of other chances to be smoking-hot.
* Overdo It. Too much cleavage, ultra-short minis, non-maternity dresses in too-tight sizes... you get the idea. There's no need to overdo it - your belly is the greatest accessory there is, and you'll be standing out even if you're sitting in the corner quietly eating five profiteroles.
'Tis is doubly true for weddings, obviously, when it's the bride's day to shine. Have fun with fashion, but stay sophisticated ... no matter what style of formal maternity wear you choose to sport.