It Takes a Village to Get Dressed Postpartum

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In comparison to the fanfare maternity fashion receives, postpartum dressing is seldom discussed. Its aesthetic is decidedly pared down, focusing on the new mother's comfort and function. Getting dressed in the fourth trimester signals a major shift of body and soul. It's no wonder the clothes can be challenging.

Ahead, a professor and circular economy scholar, therapist, and wardrobe stylist explain why getting dressed postpartum can be challenging, and offer a sustainable and social dressing solution for new mothers.

Getting Dressed After Baby

"I always think of clothes as a tool for communication, explains Fixup founder Sandra Goldmark, an expert in design and the circular economy, and an associate professor of professional practice at Barnard College of Columbia University. "Clothes can help people accomplish a task." In the murky days of new motherhood, "there's this comical tension around tasks," says Goldmark, explaining that new moms are working out this new identity while also tending for a newborn. "Clothes become a nexus, a container for the confusion. It makes sense the clothes can be challenging."

There's no one postpartum experience, as every person shifts into the role of motherhood differently, and with various life factors that impact this time. "Women can experience anxiety," says Danielle Goode, LMSW, a therapist who specializes in perinatal mental health, childhood trauma, and anxiety. "There's constant worry that something is going to happen to their baby, wondering if their place is clean enough. They can be depressed, not feeling excited or connected to baby. They can feel a loss of joy and deep insecurity about their ability to parent." On top of anxiety, new moms are "mentally tired and sleep deprived, which can impair thinking and the ability to make sound decisions."

In the immediate postpartum days, wardrobe is centered around comfort. "You're wearing bathrobes and pajamas all day," says Goldmark. Many new mothers are recovering from the physical demands of giving birth and lactation. "You can’t move as freely; you need to rest," Goode says. Coupled with the physical changes, outfitting yourself as a new mother can be filled with tension. "On top of the mental and emotional changes we experience, there lies this deep desire to get back to 'pre-baby' body. We have social media for sure to thank for that."

How the Myth of Having It All Affects Getting Dressed

Costuming yourself as a mother can be tricky business in the fourth trimester and beyond. Even though motherhood can consume your identity, it still only informs part of who you are, whether you work outside of the home or not. "When I was pregnant with my first child, I set up all these jobs [for the postpartum period] and when he was born, I had no desire to fulfill these obligations. I was torn," says Goldmark. "It wasn’t like I wanted to give up my professional life." Rather, Goldmark says she was overcome by the feeling that she was "supposed to be in two places at once."

This type of ambivalence, she suggests, can manifest in postpartum dressing, and speaks to why so many new mothers have trouble feeling put together during the time. In other words, it's hard to pull a look when you're ambivalent about what you're doing, especially because, as a Goldmark explains, "clothes are responsive to whatever the task is that day."

As a new mom you might feel torn, like you're supposed to be in two places at once. And how do you dress for that?

The myth of "having it all" is still pervasive, and it can be daunting when your life doesn't feel balanced, so it makes sense dressing will reflect that. "You can be a great parent and work a full day, but you can't do both, because technically you can’t be at both places at once. You can do half of both," explains Goldmark. "It's a proportion." Postpartum dressing acknowledges a fissure, and it's more complicated than before and after baby.

Goode notes that during the postpartum time, getting dressed is a function of self-care. "I always encourage [patients] to create a postpartum plan. Within that postpartum plan includes identifying folks who can be of support. Having people who can relieve you to do something you wouldn’t and or couldn’t otherwise do allows for women to feel encouraged to engage in self-care."

Styling Postpartum and Beyond

Feeling grounded in your new role as mother isn't as easy as dressing the part, but that doesn't mean dismissing postpartum dressing altogether. Goldmark explains that postpartum dressing reflects "a huge identity shift. Professional clothes are a way to say 'I’m here and I’m ready to be here.' in the postpartum period there can be a real breakdown in communicating who you are."

Wardrobe stylist and image consultant Beverly Osemwenkhae says, "style is an instant language." Planning a postpartum wardrobe can help to create, a "story that's aligned with who you are."

Postpartum dressing doesn't have to be about buying a whole new wardrobe. Leaning on the support system Goode alludes to can help new mothers find community and provide a social outlet. "Circularity can be a way out from the challenging postpartum moments," explains Goldmark, who suggests clothing swaps as a way for new moms to find community and form social bonds around mom clothing. "It's something you can do intentionally. It felt really good to navigate this time through sharing, saving money, and saving the planet."

What to Wear Just After Giving Birth

Your main focus at this stage is functionality and comfort, according to Osemwenkhae. She says a "v-neck sleeveless slip cotton jersey slip dress," can feel effortless and be easily worn with a "midi-length long cardigan duster. I will do this with a slip-on white sneaker that you can easily take on and off. You want to wear super lightweight clothing that's breathable."

Choose fabrics with skin-feel that you have a connection to. "This could absolutely be comforting to someone while experiencing uncomfortable emotions," says Goode. "The material will serve as a 'reminder' and trigger hormones like oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine that feel good."

What to Wear Three Months Postpartum

In this stage you have a bit of a routine so getting dressed should be easier. Osemwenkhae opts for an "oversize wrap sweater or a relaxed cotton button-up shirt paired with compression leggings or joggers. You can wear this with sneakers or flats. This is the stage of versatility."

What to Wear Six Months Postpartum

"In this stage you already built a capsule wardrobe with neutral colors and have your go-to staples. You can wear a wrap jersey knit jumpsuit with a soft lightweight bomber, or pare it back with your cardigan duster," explains Osemwenkhae. "This look can also be worn with sneakers, loafers, or flats. Another great accessory is a baseball cap or a hat where you can bring in a little more color into your everyday look."

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