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No more muumuus: wedding dresses for pregnant brides abound

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Jessica Iverson was six months pregnant when she married husband Matthew Kustura in 2004. Finding an appropriate wedding dress, she says, was the hardest part of the whole affair. (Courtesy of Jessica Iverson)

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Jessica Iverson was six months pregnant when she married husband Matthew Kustura in 2004. Faced with a lack of options for her dream wedding dress, Iverson spent more on alterations than on the dress itself. Still, it barely fit on the day of her wedding. (Courtesy of Jessica Iverson)

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This maternity wedding dress in Motherhood's 2007 spring collection sold out within days of its online preview, says company president Rebecca Matthias. (Courtesy of Mothers Work)

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Jessica Iverson created her own online business designing maternity wedding gowns in 2004. This dress, the Julia, is one of her biggest sellers. (Courtesy of Maternity Bridal)

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Six months pregnant with her baby boys, Emily Allis-Springer got married last June in Portland, Me. Finding a dress, she remembers, was a nightmare. She finally bought one online from Maternity Bride. (Courtesy of Emily Allis-Springer)

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Six months pregnant with baby boys, Emily Allis-Springer got married in Portland, Me. last year. Pregnant brides today are excited about showing off their bulging bellies and celebrating their pregnancy at the same time as their marriage. (Courtesy of Emily Allis-Springer)

Jessica Iverson always imagined walking down the aisle in a beautiful white wedding gown. But in 2004, six months pregnant and three weeks before her wedding, she considered donning a shirt and trousers for the ceremony.

After weeks of frantic searching, she ordered a dress online. But when it arrived, it was so oversized “it just fell right off,” Iverson said.

After the wedding was over, Iverson, a 23-year-old Santa Barbara, Calif., resident, put her experience to work for others in the same predicament. She opened Maternity Bride, an online business designing wedding gowns for pregnant women.

Nearly one in six American brides-to-be are expecting, according to a recent informal survey by Iverson's company. The fashion industry--from large chains to small boutiques--is just beginning to cater to those eager to wed before they deliver.

“The days of [pregnant] brides having to wear a muumuu and running off to quiet areas to get married are over,” said maternity bridal designer Gail Lerch, owner of Toronto-based Sara Houston Inc. Proud of their bulging bellies, women today see pregnancy as a cause for celebration, not embarrassment. Recent magazine and television coverage of the wedding plans for pregnant celebrities like Naomi Campbell and Britney Spears have helped fuel the trend.

Since Lerch began designing for pregnant brides a year ago, most of her customers have been professionals in their early 30s, she said. People find their life partners at an older age now, agreed Millie Martini Bratten, editor in chief of Brides magazine. Six out of 10 women are living with their spouses before they marry, according to Conde Nast Bridal Media's 2006 American Wedding Survey.

“They’ve already decided they’re going to be committed to each other,” Bratten said, noting that couples in this situation tend to be less careful about pregnancies or may want to try for children before it’s too late.

But despite the growing demand, most bridal boutiques still do not carry a separate maternity line. Of the more than 7,000 bridal shops in the United States, fewer than 10 carry ready-made gowns specifically for brides who are expecting. Boutiques still recommend that pregnant women buy a dress a few sizes larger and then get it altered.

That rarely works, says Iverson, speaking from personal experience. She spent the week before her wedding in and out of the tailor’s shop, hoping for the best. Eventually, the alterations ended up costing more than the dress. Then, on her wedding day, she could barely zip it up.

Wedding gown seams usually have no more than a 2-inch allowance, Iverson says. The only way to get the right fit for a bride who is already showing is to order extra dress fabric from the manufacturer and sew in a new panel. Getting the extra material can take weeks.

And venturing into bridal boutiques is no fun for expecting brides. “It was a nightmare,” said Emily Allis-Springer, 29, who got married while six months pregnant with twins last June. Sales clerks at the few boutiques she visited in Portland, Maine, were unfriendly and inattentive. “When things didn’t fit, I asked if they could call and see if they’d get it in a larger size,” Springer said. But the stores never called her back.

Iverson remembers how out-of-place she felt during her own frenzied search through Santa Barbara’s chic bridal boutiques. “I felt like Julia Roberts in 'Pretty Woman,'” she said. And some boutique owners apparently want it that way. A potential buyer at a trade show recently told Iverson, “We try not to get those brides in here.”

Springer eventually bought her gown from Iverson's Web site. Although nervous about spending $600 on a dress she had never tried on, she was reassured by some of the tricks Iverson had devised to make her outfits pregnancy-friendly. Iverson uses a chart to determine what the bride’s size will be the week of the wedding. The stomach of the dress is designed so that brides can grow into it as the wedding gets closer. With its high waist, sleeveless top and flowing skirt, her dress “was made so that it fit just perfectly,” Springer said.

America’s largest maternity retailer, Mothers Work, also carry dresses for pregnant brides. Last month, the company, which owns Mimi Maternity, Pea in the Pod and Motherhood, announced its spring line of wedding gowns for expectant brides, ranging in price from $50 to $395. The Philadelphia-based company started designing maternity wedding dresses almost four years ago. “We realized there was a demand for it,” said the company's president, Rebecca Matthias.

Maternity wedding gowns are designed differently than traditional gowns. Most expectant women choose dresses in the empire style, with a high waist and A-line skirt to play down the belly area. While the gowns may look like elegant silk numbers, designers usually use synthetic fabrics with Lycra mixed in to accommodate a pregnant bride’s changing shape.

While the average bride spends about $1,500 on a wedding gown, a bride preparing for the expenses of a new baby usually doesn’t want to spend more than $1,000, Iverson said. They also don’t want to wait the three to four months typically required to make custom-made wedding dresses. Iverson's and Lerch’s customers often come to them a few weeks before the wedding day. To meet the tighter deadlines, Iverson guarantees delivery in two days.

The bottom line is that pregnancy needn’t change your dream wedding, said Bratten, the Brides editor.

“Today, it’s something the couples embrace,” she said. “It’s part of the celebration.”

E-mail: psg2107@columbia.edu