Pregnancy Takes a Turn on the Red Carpet

May 16th, 2013

From left, Jennifer S. Altman for The New York Times (Ms. Kardashian and Ms. Trump), Frederic J. Brown/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images, Monica Almeida/The New York Times, J. Emilio Flores for The New York Times

From left, Kim Kardashian, Ivanka Trump, Beyonc?, Natalie Portman and Cate Blanchett. More Photos »

Last week, the most talked-about moment from the Met Gala, the annual black-tie event to benefit the museum’s Costume Institute, did not involve Anna Wintour, the host committee headlined by Rooney Mara and Beyonc? or Madonna going pantless.

Rather, Kim Kardashian, the reality TV star and girlfriend of the musician Kanye West, stole the spotlight when she climbed the red-carpeted staircase in a printed floral long-sleeved gown with matching gloves and heels, punctuated by a very prominent baby bump.

Soon after, her head-to-toe look was compared to chintzy upholstery (a doctored image of Ms. Kardashian blending into a sofa pattern circulated in social media) and also to Mrs. Doubtfire, the frumpy cross-dressing housekeeper played by Robin Williams in a 1993 movie. “I think I wore it better,” Mr. Williams wrote on Twitter, attaching a side-by-side image of him in character next to the reality star. Vogue might have agreed. In the magazine’s post-gala Best Dressed roundup, Mr. West made the cut, but Ms. Kardashian was cropped out of the photo.

“I think she looked amazing,” Riccardo Tisci of Givenchy, who designed the gown, told Women’s Wear Daily after the event. “She was the most beautiful pregnant woman I dressed in my career,” he added, “People can say what they want.”

Though Ms. Kardashian, through her publicist, declined to comment, she has other people talking. Actresses, like other women, once did their best to camouflage pregnancies in tented smocks. “In the 1930s and ’40s, movie stars often hid the fact that they were pregnant,” Kay Goldman, a Texas researcher, wrote in “Dressing Modern Maternity,” a book about a leading maternity label called Page Boy, which became known for a signature smock with Peter Pan collar.

But now celebrities in advanced stages of pregnancy tend to make the scene, often swathing their bellies in head-turning fashion. “It used to be ‘Stay at home and don’t be seen,’ ” said Janice Min, editorial director of The Hollywood Reporter. “Today, it’s a red carpet perfect storm. If you’re pregnant and you go out to an event, you get so much attention. People love to see pregnant celebrities flaunt it.”

A few pioneering actresses in the 1950s stepped out while showing (Eva Marie Saint in 1955 accepted her Oscar for best supporting actress, two days before her delivery, in a skirt suit). Lucille Ball persuaded CBS executives to write that she was “expecting” into “I Love Lucy.” And Ms. Goldman writes of how “the year 1963 became the year of tent dresses and shifts, and depending on exactly how the dresses were cut, many of them could be worn by any woman — pregnant or not.” With an emphasis on fitness and body-consciousness, the 1980s moved pregnancy away from the shift somewhat.

But Bonnie Fuller, the editor in chief of HollywoodLife.com, said the coming-out of celebrity pregnancy wasn’t really complete until Demi Moore posed full-bellied and nude for the cover of Vanity Fair’s August 1991 issue.

Before then, “you didn’t see women pregnant on the cover of magazines,” Ms. Fuller said. On set, slightly pregnant actresses would block their abdomens with furniture or props (“They would shoot the women from the neck up,” she said), while very pregnant actresses, to conceal weight gain, would shun the public eye completely. “Maybe it was so they wouldn’t lose out on a job,” Ms. Fuller said.

And when Annette Bening appeared at the Academy Awards in 2000, gloriously enceinte in a dark gown, it sparked “a revolution,” Ms. Fuller said. The Oscars have since functioned as a kind of runway for the expectant. (“Celebrities can be very lemming-like,” Ms. Min said.) Catherine Zeta-Jones (eight months pregnant, wearing cleavage-baring black Versace in 2003), Cate Blanchett (in royal purple Dries Van Noten with embellished neckline in 2008) and Natalie Portman (in Rodarte, also purple, in 2011) have all attended the awards show while visibly expecting. The arrivals are obsessively chronicled; the “bump” a point of pride, the ultimate accessory for someone who clearly has it all.

Indeed, “The Baby Bump is the New Birkin,” was the title of a 2012 essay by Ren?e Ann Cramer, an associate professor at Drake University, who wrote, “Celebrity pregnancy fashion provides welcome relief from treacly-sweet, pastel-hued, and shapeless maternity clothes of the past.”

While not everyone felt that way about Ms. Kardashian’s flower bomb, it’s hardly surprising that her pregnancy has been closely parsed. She rose to fame on a sex tape, Ms. Min said, adding: “It’s not like she’s the lead soprano at the Met Opera. Her whole purpose in life is to be photographed and scrutinized.”

And in turning the klieg lights on her condition, she certainly has company. Holly Madison, the former Playboy model whose Mother’s Day special, “Holly Has a Baby,” was shown on E, documented her recent pregnancy and delivery.

Last year during her first pregnancy, Jessica Simpson posed nude for Elle’s April cover, a copycat of Ms. Moore’s shoot, and became a spokeswoman for Weight Watchers to lose the baby weight. By September, she had introduced a maternity collection through a deal with Destination Maternity, which expanded this spring. Now carrying her second child, Ms. Simpson wears clothing from her line and has become something of a maternity cheerleader. “Your body is constantly changing, but you can look cute and feel good the entire time,” she said in an e-mail. One of her favorite looks from her collection seems ready for a party: a sexy black mini dress with tight lace sleeves that she wore recently on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”

But for those less involved in retail, handling the attention stylishly can be a challenge. When asked if finding a gown for the Oscars was difficult, Ms. Bening told Newsweek at a Hollywood round table two years ago: “Oh, God, yeah. They kind of made something for me. And it was more like, how am I going to get out of a car and walk in?”

“I just remember it was a lot of attention on being so pregnant,” Ms. Bening added. “It wasn’t my favorite thing. Being slightly pregnant is easier. I was so big.”

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