Labor Day is upon us, the fall semester is officially underway, and you’ve probably got a ton of Labor Day shopping coupons sitting in your inbox as we speak. Are you a pregnant woman trying to keep to a budget for her maternity wardrobe? Do you need help figuring out which brands are worth your time? Have I got the post for you! In the past two months I have placed approximately 2,947 orders for maternity clothes (and returned approximately 2,945 of them). Benefit from my online shopping obsession and innate pickiness, and let me give you the lowdown on LOFT, Gap, Old Navy, and Isabella Oliver.
Because most maternity clothes are sold exclusively online, I had to contact almost every brand for help with returns or shipping issues at some point. So I gave each store two grades — one for the clothes themselves and one for customer service. Clothes are graded on quality and style; customer service is graded on shipping speed, ease of returns, and responsiveness to customer problems. Both categories are graded with price taken into account (cheaper brands are graded less harshly; expensive brands better justify their prices with high-quality clothes and awesome customer service).
Brand Review 1: Ann Taylor LOFT
One of this blog’s most popular posts is my 2011 Open Letter to Ann Taylor LOFT, in which I bemoaned the store’s grim drop in quality. I’ve had slightly better luck with LOFT in recent years but I can’t say they’ve returned to their glory days. Nonetheless, I decided to give their maternity clothes a try.
The price is definitely right at LOFT. (Warning: Never pay full price for LOFT clothes. They issue 40% off coupons regularly. Have patience and wait for the next sale.) I found a great maternity swimsuit for $25 and a few cute blouses for around $15-25 each — some of them in the non-maternity section, like this loose shell that’s very bump-friendly if you order a size or two up:
But the cut and styling of their pants remains a total mystery to me. I tried six pairs of LOFT maternity pants and returned them all, for issues ranging from puckering at the crotch (even when the pants were way too big overall) to painfully tight belly bands (and I was only 4.5 months pregnant!). And I was really disappointed in their shapeless, frumpy maternity dresses. If I wanted to drape myself in a bedsheet and tie a string around my waist to hold it together I could probably do it for a lot less than $90.
I do have to praise LOFT’s customer service — this was the only store I never had to contact about shipping or returns problems. The free shipping minimum of $125 might seem high, but if you’re ordering two sizes of everything (which I recommend when maternity shopping — figuring out where you fall on the maternity size chart is tricky), it’s not hard to get above that number. Shipping is fast and returns are easy and processed efficiently.
Customer Service: A
Brand Review 2: Isabella Oliver
This British brand is pricey, but I wanted one really nice maternity dress and 1-2 conference-appropriate work blouses, so I decided to give them a try. My first order went great — the free express shipping had two blouses and a dress at my doorstep just 48 hours after I placed the order. No prepaid return shipping label, alas, but the return was processed quickly when I shipped it back.
My second order, however, was a train wreck. For some reason, even though you return items to Florida, Isabella Oliver insists on shipping all US orders from the UK. Missing data on their FedEx customs form delayed my order for nearly a week — and I was so disappointed when my wrap dress finally arrived, only to be completely unwearable (the dress fit perfectly but the ties were so short I could barely secure it in place!).
After I returned the dress, I received another bill for additional customs charges on this order. Isabella Oliver snottily referred me to some legalese in their Terms of Service which disavowed responsibility for such complications, but told me that I was welcome to place an international call to the British tax service to obtain instructions on how to apply for a partial refund. Wow, thanks.
The clothes are chic but not worth this much effort, and such an expensive brand really ought to have a better policy on customs snafus than “whatevs, that’s the customer’s problem.” I recommend ordering Isabella Oliver clothes from Nordstrom or other US resellers and skipping the hassle of dealing with them directly.
Customer Service: C-
Brand Review 3: Gap
Need work pants or jeans? Start here. Many of Gap’s pants come in three inseam length options, and Gap seems to have the maternity belly panel thing figured out — the panels are neither too snug nor too loose. At 6 months along I feel good about the current fit and about my room to grow. Also, Gap runs lots of 35% or 40%-off sales (although Gap jeans are frequently excluded from the discount).
The non-pants selection, alas, is a letdown. Gap’s current line of maternity tops and dresses leans towards strange colors and potato-sack shapes. Take, for example, this delightful garment, which appears to be a tablecloth made from repurposed Pepto-Bismol bottles.
Also, be prepared for less-than-stellar customer service.
- The free shipping option is excruciatingly slow. However, mail returns are free and you can return almost all items to Gap stores, which cuts down significantly on the amount of time you have to wait to get your money back.
- Their customer phone line is horrible. Don’t bother using their numbered menu options unless you want to listen to the information about your most recent order 400 times in a row. Just say “representative” until they place you on hold. Then prepare to wait.
- Don’t expect a lot of help once you do get a representative on the line. One morning I received an e-mail coupon, placed an order, and literally an hour later received an even better coupon. When I called Customer Service they said they couldn’t make any changes, but they could cancel my first order and re-order the items with the new discount. Then they forgot to cancel the first order. Sigh. Pro tip: place Gap.com orders at the end of the day.
Customer Service: B-
Brand Review 4: Old Navy
The king of bargain clothes actually has some cute casual maternity options. I’ve really liked this faux wrap dress — it’s super-comfortable and will transition nicely into nursing.
But I’ve also run into problems with scratchy sweaters, see-through tops, and holes and torn seams on more than one item. I expect sketchy fabric quality at this price point, but shipping multiple items damaged? That’s just crummy.
Plus, they have all the customer service disadvantages of their sister brand Gap, with the added wrinkle of requiring mail returns for almost all maternity clothes.
Bottom line: If you’re willing to make lots of returns, Old Navy will often reward your patience with a diamond in the rough. Just check garments very carefully before you decide whether to keep them.
Customer Service: C+