By Jean Marie Strauss

Big, Bold and Beautiful: Maternity with PizazzLiz Lange's stylish-but-simple fashions put the 'sexy' back in maternity wear

  |  PRODUCTS   

Liz Lange’s Maternity Style: How to Look Fabulous During the Most Fashion-Challenged Time (Clarkson Potter/Crown Publishing Group, $22.50) begins with a romp through the history of maternity wear. In four pages flat, photos and a sentence or two take the reader from Ancient Egypt to the very first maternity wear runway show (Lange’s, of course). It’s the perfect amount of space to devote to history in this lively book about fashions for pregnant women. Any woman who was pregnant before the '90s knows those nine months were simply endured as far as style goes. Although everyone made it through wearing something (oversized pants and a man’s shirt sound familiar?), Liz Lange heard the complaints and set out to create clothing to embrace and celebrate this exciting time. Lange was an editor at Vogue before becoming a designer with a sportswear company. She began to hear from friends about the dearth of stylish maternity clothing. Newly married and thinking about having a baby herself, Lange quit her job and opened her by-appointment-only maternity wear business. “There were naysayers,” Lange says, “but I just really believed in it.” A one-woman operation at first, the enterprise quickly became a small store on Lexington Avenue. Her fitted, stylish-yet-simple fashions were so in demand, Lange was able to open her flagship store on Madison Avenue in 2000. Two more stores followed, in Beverly Hills and Greenvale, Long Island. Her catalog and Internet business then brought fashionable maternity wear to the world. “My customers mean everything to me,” says Lange, who is mom to Gus, 4 1/2, and Alice, now 2 1/2. She encourages feedback about her business and designs through her email site, “Ask Liz”, at She personally answers every email she receives — which can be as many as 30 a day. As the business grew, an overwhelming number of messages were from women who could not afford Lange’s line (items range from $45-$200) but still needed to put something together for work or a special occasion. These messages were the impetus for Lange to write a book that a woman could use as a guide “no matter where she lived or how much money she had to spend.” Since writing the book, Lange has signed a licensing deal with Target Stores, thus bringing her designs to women for $25 dollars or less. As one emailer put it (and almost brought Lange to tears): “Even when I was blue, you made me happy.” Lange makes the reader feel as though they are part of a very special club as she explains the myriad ways to clothe an expanding waistline. The clothing is effectively shown not on models but simply arranged on a white background. Although the garments are not labeled, they come from Liz Lange as well as other brands such as J.C. Penney, Old Navy, and A Pea in the Pod. Outfits are shown for every occasion: work, weekends, holidays and special events. Lange likens the approach to a recipe book, giving the customer the know-how to pull together a look to make a mom-to-be feel terrific. Lange encourages women to exalt in their sexiness. Her best selling cashmere tube tops indicate she is getting her message across. The book is full of practical advice: must-have items like black stretch pants, pointers on how to economize and when to splurge. Even though Lange wrote the book because she “wanted it to be really useful,” it’s also a lot of fun. In addition to Lange’s reassuring you-go-girl advice, there are photographs of celebrity moms in everything from jeans to gowns, including pictures of moms from the '50s and '60s, who did have the means to dress fashionably.; Jacqueline Kennedy, Princess Grace, Barbra Streisand and many more are here in splendid black-and-white in this otherwise colorful book. Even the celebrity quotes are in color. The one from Candice Bergen will bring a smile to the face of any woman with knowledge of that beached whale feeling… "As I put on my entire recommended weight gain in my first trimester-gradually ballooning until I ultimately gained sixty (60!) pounds-fitted clothes were hardly an option. My wardrobe was basically baggy, baggier, and baggiest. Around the forty-pound mark, people began telling me I looked 'radiant,' which, basically, I believe means, 'Boy, are you fat!' At the fifty-pound mark, people who hadn't seen me in a while would take one look and burst out laughing. At the final sixty-pound mark, two weeks overdue, I was waddling through Bergdorf's and noticed a woman staring at me. After several minutes, she came over to me and said, 'You know, you have Candice Bergen's face.'" A section on pregnancy as portrayed in the movies and television is illuminating. Lange takes the reader through the squeamishness of the '50s to the sexy and celebrated pregnant women of the '90s. Again the photos are terrific. Big, bold graphics and short, snappy text makes this a book that can be read in one sitting or flipped through like a magazine. Since the challenges don’t end with the birth of the baby, there is some postpartum fashion advice as well as skin and hair care tips. Lange writes with a breezy and amusing style and goes where no one has gone before: G-strings, sagging breasts and ice cream binges are discussed with frankness and humor. In other words, Lange lays it on the line and then slaps you five. This refreshing take on these 40 weeks will be welcomed by any woman who has known or will know the anxieties as well as the joys of pregnancy.