It’s not news that dressing a bourgeoning bump can be a challenge—grappling with a constantly changing body shape which goes through random growth spurts over the nine months of pregnancy is clearly no cakewalk. However, you don’t need to entirely ditch your personal style just because you’ve got a little one reducing your personal space. Here are my top maternity style takeaways from two trimesters and how to feel like yourself even as your body goes through the rollercoaster of changes.

Early Days of Pregnancy

While I was trying to get pregnant I watched countless friends reach four or five months without really showing much of a change in their figure. For me, however, things were much quicker to alter—at 11 weeks I got offered a seat on the tube (I wasn’t even wearing a ‘baby on board’ badge) and people started congratulating me at events before my 12 week scan. By the time I’d reached the two month point, my 32B bosom had swelled to a 34E and I honesty couldn’t do up any of my jeans. I gained 9lbs (the NHS guidelines suggest 1-5lbs) in my first trimester (which also seemed impossible consider the fact I didn’t stop throwing up, but there is no predicting your body during pregnancy) and I felt bloated everywhere.

Big boobs are much, much harder to dress than I had imagined.”

I was over the moon about the baby, but I had thought I’d have a bit more time to transition from my regular clothes. Instead I was in a total panic. I’d try on 15 dresses before an evening event, straining in disbelief at the zips and ended up being permanently late as I hadn’t factored the extra 30 minutes required to make an outfit work with my new shape. It wasn’t that I was in denial, it was more that I thought that buying maternity clothes at 10 weeks was a waste of money as I was only going to get bigger and I couldn’t believe it had all happened so suddenly. During that time I also had a swanky holiday (booked pre-baby news) with two of my most glamorous friends. Packing for that trip will be etched in my memory forever—especially the swimwear try outs. Going from being entirely flat chested to generously bosomed really messes with your look and never more so than when you’re packing bikinis. To say I looked X-rated in my triangle two pieces is an understatement and there was no way I was going to be able to wear 95% of my beachwear anywhere else but Vegas. Of course, I knew that my body was going to change and I was excited to get a bump, but I just hadn’t factored in the speed of expansion and quite how it would impact my fashion choices every single day.

Arlington Striped turtleneck £65, Grey Zadie Skinny Jeans £99, both by Isabella Oliver

Big boobs are much, much harder to dress than I had imagined. Before I had worn a lot of deep V neck dresses, nonchalantly unbuttoned shirts and saucy bodysuits, which looked louche with a flat chest rather than tarty. Turtlenecks were a chic option for winter, with that Audrey Hepburn ingénue vibe. Now anything approaching mid-chest comes with an impressive, and yes, suggestive cleavage, while high necklines can look incredibly frumpy if the proportion is off. When you’re still trying to hide your pregnancy, it is really, really tough because boobs are pretty much impossible to disguise. Even if you wear a massive sack dress (which definitely was not my pre-pregnancy look) you can see them. In fact it was my boobs that most often gave the game away in both real life and on social media. Forever more I take my hat off to busty women who mange to look chic—there is no doubt that is it far, far easier to dress a flat chest.

During this time I just relied on maternity jeans with a shirt and a blazer to try and keep the bump on the down-low and found that I ended up wearing pretty much the same thing every day. While there was nothing wrong with it, it just didn’t feel like me. When you’re not very casual, maternity wear can feel like shopping from someone else’s wardrobe. While it is great if you love a Breton tee/ skinny jean uniform, but if you’re used to being more formal or flamboyant, the options run out pretty quickly. Needless to say I lost my style mojo.

Second Trimester Lessons

The turning point was when I decided to announce my pregnancy at 14 weeks and forget about hiding the bump. From there on, everything has been much easier and embracing the new shape has felt exciting. I started by trying to find the perfect, tight turtleneck dress to act as a base layer. It sounds like it would be easy, but it took me ages to nail the perfect one. As a non-pregnant woman I can’t imagine many instances where body-con would feature in my wardrobe, but when your belly starts to grow, clingy styles become extremely flattering. But that doesn’t work if the dress isn’t actually tight in the right places. It’s really easy to think that you need a much higher size—when shopping for straight size clothes I’m now easily a 12/14—but when it comes to maternity clothes they have been cut to take into consideration your shape so you need to stick much closer to your pre-pregnancy size. I kept ordering things too big (and there was no doubt that the bump was present by this point), but as my shoulders and hips had hardly changed, all the clothes were hideously unflattering.

The Grayson Dress £99 by Isabella Oliver

What I didn’t want to do—and I still don’t want to do—is waste money on maternity wear, so I was adamant that I would find the ULTIMATE of each piece for my new capsule wardrobe. Finally I came upon the Grayson dress by Isabella Olivier. I’d heard a lot about the brand over the years, so after three or four high street mis-steps, I thought it was worth a try. Whenever we dressed pregnant ladies when I was stylist on magazines, we’d always call in from IO, so I knew they were the quality choice.

It’s true that the brand’s designs are more expensive than the high street competition, so initially I’d tried to find cheaper alternatives. However, as soon as I put that dress on (it needed a proper wriggle to get it over the bump, as it fits so snuggly), I realised that it was worth every penny. If you only buy one slightly pricer piece while you’re expecting, my advice would be to get this dress. Aside from looking and feeling sexy for the first time in months, it is also an incredible layering tool. You can put sweaters over it and it looks like a midi skirt, wear it under jackets cinched at your new empire line waist and pair it with everything from biker boots to heels. As part of the brand’s ‘Maternity & Beyond’ collection, it will also work post-preggo as it’s ruched across the belly to expand as you do, but will fit just as well with a flattering drape when your waistline is on its way back down. The fact that you will be able to wear these pieces after you deliver also gave me a sense of reassurance when parting with that bit more £.

Aside from looking and feeling sexy for the first time in months, it is also an incredible layering tool.”

After I found the Grayson dress, I got in touch with Isabella Oliver to talk a little more about the brand and they in turn asked me to put together some looks  and interview for their website. While it would be expensive to buy all of these pieces, if you do want to invest, you’ll be hard pushed for find better design. The maternity jeans for example are far superior to both high street and designer jeans brand options I’ve tried—they have an over the belly band, but also a thicker under the belly band which saves you from constant builder’s bum (an occupational hazard). I love the turtlenecks for the same reason that I love the Grayson dress because they are cut to cling, but also to expand. The final addition to my IO collection is the Dora wraparound striped shirt which is great for meetings and officewear, but also works well with boyfriend jeans and loafers for weekend/ brunch style. Each of these pieces are basically blank canvases which you can layer on, add fun shoes and chic jewellery to and inject a sense of your own style personality—and that is so key when you want to still feel like yourself.

Other Tips & Tricks

1.Back to the boobs. One of the biggest challenges for me with dressing was really learning what I needed in a bra. I have never really worn bras—that is how small my fried eggs used to be, so navigating a whole new market took a little time. I had a great fitting at The Pantry Underwear in Liberty which was so informative and really useful to know where I stood sizing wise. I came away with the Triumph scalloped lace balconette bra in white lace which probably offers the best support of all my current options. A few friends suggested sports bras which have the added benefit of minimising your bust which meant some dresses and tops were more wearable and less risqué, but after a while I was finding they made me feel breathless, which isn’t ideal. My favourite however, is the Freya Fancies Bralette, a non-wired, yet supportive option. It’s made with double layered fabric and has fairly substantial straps so it definitely offers some lift, but at the same time doesn’t feel constricting at all. The longline lace is marginally matronly, but I actually like the vintage feel.

The Dora Shirt £89, Super Stretch Skinny Jeans £99, both by Isabella Oliver

2. Stretch knit is a godsend and can really open up opportunities to continue wearing skirts and dresses with separates. I have a couple of old knit midis from H&M which still work with the bump and look great with a  cropped sweater. Make a curved shape across your belly with the hem of the sweater by folding it slightly under and you’ll find you’ve got a really flattering shape.

3. Keep trying on your old clothes, as sometimes things will surprise you. I’ve got a few dresses which work really well with the bump and of course, looser, Empire-line dresses are great as they offer space for your bump to grow, but will also still work when you’ve had your baby. And don’t even think about throwing out anything in your old wardrobe because you don’t think you’ll ever fit back into it—from all the advice I’ve been given, you will more than likely be back close to your old size quicker than you might think.

4. The heels question is a hot potato and obviously has practical issues which you can’t ignore. From hip and back ache to an increased chance of falling and doing yourself some damage, you can see why the medical profession and old wives advise against wearing them. But—and this is a big but—if you’re a confident heels wearer and they don’t cause you any discomfort, they can really help balance your new shape. I’m 5’2” and have been a lifelong heels advocate. What most people see as fancy dress heels, I call daywear. While I have parked my platforms and spindly 120mm stilettos, I’m still wearing block heels around 1 1/2-2 inches high. For a few weeks mid-pregnancy, heels made my hips ache, so I eased off wearing them, but at 28 weeks I’m finding them fine for evening events or meetings. As with all things in pregnancy, you just have to listen to your own body. I have also invested in a few pairs of proper flat shoes that I actually really like including some Gucci loafers which I’d been coveting for about two years, as they will work well post-pregnancy too. But if I’m wearing a cocktail dress and I’m getting a cab, I’m definitely not ditching the heels.

5. Accessories are EVERYTHING. While this is perhaps the most obvious of all the tips, it took me a little while to really register how important accessories are to keeping your style personality going. Big earrings have become a really great throw-on—I particularly like Katerina Makriyiannis coloured fans and other oversized hoops like Otiumberg x Laura Fantacci’s collection make me feel like myself even if I’m in a tried and tested jeans and Breton. Offering a way to add colour and texture to your outfit, gobstopper gem necklaces are another simple option and of course, your favourite bags are always going to fit no matter how huge your bump gets!

This post was created as part of a paid partnership in collaboration with Isabella Oliver.