The high street is particularly insensitive to pregnant women. Ask for the maternity section and the assistant will get all flustered, as though you've asked for incontinence pants. Julie Williams, a production coordinator for Chris Evans's Ginger Productions says, "When you do find the maternity sections in high-street shops they are usually minuscule and up two flights of steps. The major problem is designers thinking you want to hide your body in a boring beige sack dress or a man-size shirt."
There are time-honoured fashion rules about pregnancy. For one, a woman's cleavage is more sumptuous and she may want to focus on it rather than the waist. Where to find fashion pieces that fit the rule is less clear- cut. Williams says, "Contrary to popular belief, pregnant women do want to wear short skirts and fitted tops. H & M [the artist formerly known as Hennes] wins hands down for me. Everything is around the pounds 21.99 mark, which is important because you're not going to wear these clothes after the birth. I bought a fabulous leopard-skin, fake fur party frock from H&M and everyone complimented it. It was above the knee, quite fitted and skimmed the cleavage."
H&M press office says, "We don't design separately for our Mama collection. We take the key pieces from our fashion stories and adapt. For spring '98 we're doing boot-cut "ottoman" trousers at pounds 21.99, and grey jersey tops with V-necks and very fitted sleeves. One of the big stories is our ice-blue, jersey sleeveless dress at pounds 21.99, which crosses over the cleavage. Chinese embroidery on georgette is a major part of H&M fashion, so we've cut the embroidered georgette into a dress [pounds 19.99] which can be worn on its own or over a pair of viscose pants with an elasticised waist [pounds 21.99]."
Another high-street complaint is the lack of fashion for women over size 16. They, too, are largely ignored by the magazines. John Lewis press office reports that not only has its maternity range been injected with a shot of fashion nous, but "we are really designing for women between 16 and 40 plus. We are also aware that some mothers work up to two weeks before they are due. So, we have a tailored short navy skirts [pounds 33] and single-breasted navy jackets [pounds 55] which women need for the office in viscose, Lycra and jersey. Women don't have to wear clothing that screams `pregnancy'. They want to get on with their lives and dress accordingly."
Women to whom catalogue shopping is poison have been converted when searching for maternity wear. Williams was surprised to say, "The French catalogues La Redoute and Jojo Maman Bebe had lovely stuff. I also saw a beautiful mid-thigh velour tunic in Formes catalogue - but pounds 90 is a lot of money for a dress I will only wear until April."
Forget christening presents. Just ask for an H&M chargecard in advance.