Ask the Image Expert

Sherry Maysonave is the founder and president of Empowerment Enterprises, one of America's leading communication-image firms. Sherry conducts corporate seminars and coaches executives, professionals, and politicians in achieving excellence in communication and image. She is also the author of Casual Power: How to Power Up your Nonverbal Communication and Dress Down for Success

Should I buy new post-pregnancy clothes?

Question: I read your book and am very excited about changing my image. I have an interesting problem that I know you can solve.

I am a thirty-four year old attorney. I just had my first baby ten weeks ago. Before becoming pregnant I was very thin, but I gained 60 pounds during the pregnancy. I have already lost 40 pounds, but am still far off from my size six clothes. I am very active, run and cycle a lot and expect to lose the weight by Fall if not sooner. The question is, should I wait until Fall to "power up" or go ahead and spend the money on larger clothes now? Money is okay, but I'd rather put it in my son's college fund. I do plan to have more children, but not for a few years. Oh yeah, I am breastfeeding also, which means my normally modest chest now overflows.

Answer: Dear Martia,
Congratulations on your baby boy! I am a mother of three semi-adult children, but I still remember those years of newborns. Treasure this time; it will be gone quicker than you can imagine. There is nothing more miraculous than growing a life inside in your own body and then giving birth. Value yourself for what your body has just created and accomplished. Try to be patient with the rate at which your figure will change.

Now, to your question. I assume by your inquiry that you have gone back to work, practicing law. Don't wait, begin to "Power Up" NOW. Work toward having at least a week's worth of outfits that look great on you as you are right now, today; garments that you can vary (and wear several times in one week) while your body is shifting back. There will be a career payoff! And you will feel more confident and comfortable.

If you wait to power up, you run the risk of sending the nonverbal message that you are just a new mother that may not keep working outside the home. This could potentially sabotage you with your clients or your cohorts in your law firm. They may not take you as seriously or just write you off the "important" list. Both clients and cohorts like to think in terms of long-term working relationships. This applies regardless of what your plans are as you want your last impression with them to be that of a professional.

Here are several ways to solve your new-mother wardrobe dilemma:

  1.  At the minimum, you must buy an array of new tops or blouses to accommodate breastfeeding breast-size variables.
  2.  Purchase two or three complete outfits that fit you well now. Since your body will continue to shift over this next year, shop for moderately priced garments that are businesslike (such as Casual Corner's career wear). Choose solid-colored garments that will allow for mix and match outfits. Keep the basic pieces in dark neutral colors (they are the most slenderizing!) and try to select fabrics that can be easily tailored down in size as you loose more weight. That means no prints or plaid fabrics. Check out the economical "Capsule Wardrobe Plan" in Chapter 4 of my book, Casual Power.
  3.  Go shopping in your closet and see if there are some pants, skirts, or suit jackets that could be easily altered to fit you now. The type of fabric determines whether or not the garment can be released without showing the old seam lines. The seam widths are also a consideration. After trying on some of the possibilities, take the most plausible garments to an alterations person. If you specifically ask if these garments can be reworked to fit you now, a reputable tailor or alterations shop will be honest with you.
  4.  Jackets always add a touch of power and professional polish to any outfit. Check your closet for styles that you can wear open (not buttoned). In Casual Power there is a "Vertical Dressing" section in Chapter 5 that illustrates how to put outfits of separates together for a professional (and slenderizing!) look. For example, wear solid-color dark neutrals as your basic top, skirt, or pants. These specific garments should be in the same color family (black, brown, gray, olive, etc.). Then add a contrasting-colored jacket for a two-color businesslike outfit. Monochromatic dressing (all pieces of the outfit in the same color tones) is another highly professional and slenderizing look.
  5.  "Power Up" with great accessories. Important-looking earrings, scarves, etc. draw the eye to your face. Use this to your advantage, especially now when you may feel self-conscious about your new-mother body.
  6.  Don't forget that your hair and makeup contribute greatly to your overall image. Often times hair texture and hair color will change with the hormonal upheavals of having a baby. See an expert stylist for a flattering, updated hairstyle that's easy to handle and one that adds to your professional image. Yes, I know that it's difficult to find time for haircuts, manicures, etc. when balancing the demands of a newborn and your career. It's easy to let yourself go during this time. Try your best to make time to do your hair and apply simple makeup each day for a truly empowered professional image, and for you to feel great about yourself in the workplace.

Good luck with "Powering Up" your image and be sure to enjoy your new baby!
Sherry Maysonave

Also see:

  • Ask your image questions
  • Personal Power: A case study from 'Casual Power'