New York fine jeweler Briony Raymond was among the mere mortals in attendance when a pregnant Rihanna swanned into the Dior show at Paris Fashion Week earlier this month. Velvet formal dress “She glided into the room in a cloud of diamonds and sheer, gauzy lingerie,” Raymond, the designer behind Rihanna’s signature signet ring, told Vogue. The mogul/mom-to-be wore knee-high black boots; her neck and décolletage encircled in layered necklaces, but the most show-stopping accessory was by Mother Nature: Rihanna’s growing belly on full display through black mesh.
It was arguably the most dramatic look in Rihanna’s boundless maternity fashion compendium—a festival of crop tops, low-slung jeans, belly-grazing jewels and maximalist coats, whether Valentine-red Saint Laurent or yellow-faux-fur-lined Balenciaga, unbuttoned just-so over her bump. I’ve been covering pregnant celebrities since Katie Holmes was expecting Suri, but I’d never seen maternity fashion so fresh it didn’t feel like maternity fashion at all, from the moment Rihanna and A$AP Rocky eschewed a twee Instagram announcement in favor of a street style shot on New York’s Riverside Drive in January.
“Rihanna is setting pregnancy style ablaze,” stylist and fashion consultant Solange Franklin told me, presenting a bold vision for mothers-to-be. “It’s not hiding. It’s not accommodating. It’s more of an effusive energy… an unabashed and abundant beauty.”
Fashion is an art form reflective of its time; the same, incidentally, goes for maternity fashion. For Franklin, who welcomed a daughter a year ago, Rihanna’s more-is-more approach is a resounding response to what it means to be pregnant in 2022, amid a pandemic, a war, and an ongoing Black maternal health crisis. Bringing new life into the world under these circumstances “requires a gritty optimism,” Franklin said. Rihanna’s daring, bump-forward philosophy is practically radical—a “clear demonstration of the singular strength and resolve it takes to go through all of this.”
“For so many Black women, we choose defiance,” Franklin added. “Part of that defiance is visibility.” In a society that traditionally glorifies nude, white pregnant celebrities (see: Demi Moore on the cover of Vanity Fair and beyond), Rihanna proudly presenting her pregnant form is a kind of beacon for others. “Outside of Rihanna, Beyonce, and Cardi B, we haven’t had a lot of Black female celebrities to look up to surrounding pregnancy style,” Janell Hickman-Kirby, a freelance beauty writer and copywriter who is six months pregnant, told me.
“Maternity style” can feel like an oxymoron. It’s a phrase that conjures the dowdiness of Princess Diana’s era of expectancy: smocked bubbles with Peter Pan collars intended to cover up swelling bellies; cutesy outfits better suited to actual babies than their mothers. By the time I was first pregnant in 2013, alongside Kate Middleton and Kim Kardashian, body consciousness reigned, with the rise of stretchy, slinky dresses and designer maternity skinny jeans. That was relative progress, but an inherent un-coolness—cheugy before cheugy was a word—remained in ubiquitous side-ruching and the nude paneling on said jeans. Puff long sleeve dress Looking back, I regret that I constantly swathed my belly in black in an attempt to minimize myself, wanting to appear as svelte as possible, trapped by the all-powerful societal standard of thinness even as I grew another human inside of me.
Rihanna is ushering in an uncompromising new era: “Celebrating the bump in a beautiful, form-figure way isn’t enough,” said Hatch founder and CEO Ariane Goldman. “Now we’re showing the bump and bedazzling and bejeweling it.” The Briony Raymond zodiac medallions Rihanna previously wore on a diamond tennis necklace (her sign, Pisces, and Rocky’s Libra) now hang on long chains that adorn her oft-revealed belly. Instead of hidden and ensconced in Lycra, her belly was dripping in gems, and peeking from a hot-pink vintage Chanel puffer, in the aforementioned pregnancy announcement.
A potential Rihanna Effect on the maternity fashion industry is afoot: in the past year, Hatch was “already going into crop tops and showing skin, which is a new direction for us,” said Goldman. She points to cropped, cap sleeve tees styled with midi-skirts and stacked heels; a model wearing a boyfriend-ish denim jacket over bare skin. Now, “Rihanna is upping the ante,” Goldman added. She’s watching Rihanna’s ever-changing looks in real time, wondering how they may or may not be adapted; asking herself questions like, “What does mesh mean to Hatch?”
At least one pregnant friend who preferred to remain anonymous is watching Rihanna in wonder, while feeling “personally exhausted at the prospect of putting something so cohesive together.” But Hickman-Kirby is inspired: “Maybe I wouldn’t be so concerned, if I was in a warm climate, about unbuttoning a few buttons to showcase my belly,” she said, or wearing a bra beneath a sheer top for dinner with her husband. “One of the things I think a lot of moms deal with is, how much of myself do I get to be? What part of myself am I going to lose?” wondered Hickman-Kirby. “Rihanna’s pregnancy style has really showcased: You can be 100% yourself and there’s no right way to do pregnancy. You don’t have to cover yourself up and feel super-embarrassed.” She points to fashion blogger Aimee Song wearing a bump-hugging pencil skirt and crop top under a ladylike cropped jacket to her recent baby shower.
Hickman-Kirby refers to Kardashian’s pregnancies, during which she was “crucified” for wearing short, tight, even slightly see-through dresses under trench coats. Back then, irreverent, revealing pregnancy style “just didn’t land,” she said. Growing—even if slowly—body positivity is begetting a shift: “If we’re gonna embrace women of all sizes, pregnant women need to be included in that spectrum.”
Rihanna’s style may feel newly bold to mothers-to-be, but in many ways, she’s simply still dressing like herself. (Rihanna “didn’t get less sexy,” Raymond quipped. “She just got more pregnant.”) For Hickman-Kirby and others, modern maternity dressing is about that same sense of non-conformity: the desire not to be othered; not to be relegated to maternity-only clothes; to persist in dressing like yourself. Long sleeve navy dress A reference for Goldman: DJ Pamela Tick, who, three days before her due date, was still spinning, in a cropped black tee and sequin pants unbuttoned and rolled slightly under her belly.
Pregnant model Maggie Maurer is refusing those side-panel maternity jeans and taking a cue from Rihanna: “I like how she’s wearing low-rise, wide jeans,” Maurer told me from Paris. “I’m definitely doing the same thing.” Maurer, who is four months along, intends to “buy clothes in a larger size that I’ll still be able to wear” post-baby.
When Maurer first got pregnant, she considered the fate of her career in the short-term: “I’m not sure that I will work for the next nine months,” she thought. “If you use your body to work, it can be a bit scary to think about getting pregnant.” But last month, at London Fashion Week, Maurer walked in the Nensi Dojaka show in a translucent, nude slip dress: her bump wasn’t a limitation, but a statement of strength. “You don’t have to become a different person just because you’re pregnant,” she said.
Pregnancy was similarly celebrated on the runway by Di Petsa, the Greek designer who crafted custom wet-look dresses for pregnant Gigi Hadid and Minaj. Di Petsa showed a fall 2022 collection inspired by pregnancy and all its stages, with drapery, bump-friendly corsetry and mesh intended to be worn during and after pregnancy. The clothes were intended to be “representative of womanhood, and the journey to finding your own self, becoming your own mother—whether that be to your inner child, or through pregnancy,” a spokesperson for the brand told me.
Pregnancy is a time often colored by restriction; one that thrusts women and their bodies into the realm of public property, ripe for touching, commenting and critiquing. But in the Rihanna Era, the sartorial rules, at least, are falling away. “I can’t have sushi, I can’t have wine. I can’t go to saunas,” said Hickman-Kirby. “Let me dress in a way that I feel like is representative of me. Let the ladies have their fashion.”