After the baby comes the fashion

— A new mother has many wonderful, magical moments. The day she can pack away her maternity clothes is one of those times.

After feeling like someone who swallowed a basketball and then stuffed into a sausage casing for months, the return to a favorite pair of jeans or a sleek sheath means a woman has reclaimed her body. But that can take months � even a year � and it requires some work.

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AP Photo

Jody Kozlow Gardner, left, and Cherie Serota, founders of Belly Basics, know first-hand about post-pregnancy fashion dilemmas. Kozlow Gardner has a daughter and son, and Serota has three boys.

It can be an extremely frustrating time, observe Jody Kozlow Gardner and Cherie Serota, founders of Belly Basics, a maternity clothing company. The mom's belly has shrunk enough to step out of maternity clothes but not enough to step in to her pre-pregnancy size, they explain.

These women know the exasperation firsthand. Kozlow Gardner has a 5-year-old daughter and a 4-year-old son, and Serota has three boys, ages 7, 4 and 1.

After the baby is born, no woman wants to wear the maternity standbys � an empire-waist or baby-doll dress. God forbid an innocent onlooker mistake her as pregnant, says Kozlow Gardner. But most women also do not want to spend a lot of money on clothes bigger than their pre-pregnancy size during the transition.

So, what's a new mother to do?

"Accentuate your positives. Show off your legs with slim-leg pants or a short skirt. If your arms stayed trim, wear knit tops," Kozlow Gardner advises.

If the woman gained a lot of weight, she should stick to loose garments in the first weeks, like a man's button-down shirt, Serota says. ("Don't worry, we all lose it eventually," she adds.)

Other suggestions include wearing V-necks, which are slimming because they appear to elongate the torso; open necks, which show off an unaffected collar bone; forgiving pull-on bottoms to keep pressure off the belly; and cardigans, wrap sweaters or jackets that can hide the lingering bulges.

To help with the transition period, Belly Basics has introduced a companion to its signature The Pregnancy Survival Kit, that little white box with a dark-colored dress, skirt, top and pant inside that many women use for the home stretch of their pregnancy. The Transition Kit, with a black Tencel/Spandex V-neck, long-sleeve top and matching slim pant, is for the "Before The Belly/After The Baby" period.

The pants are essentially leggings but they have a boot leg to make them more fashionable and a little dressier, explains Serota.

"Dig in your wardrobe from before the baby for anything with a stretch waistband," she says. "Rediscover the hidden treasures. There may be a pair of pants that you didn't wear often before you were pregnant but if they have an elastic waist, you'll love them now."

When it is time to go back to work, blazers and jackets are indispensable. Even if they are worn open, they look polished and professional with a knit top, not a bulky sweater, underneath, Kozlow Gardner says.

And don't forget to pay attention to outerwear, as a first impression can be a lasting one, she says. If a coat doesn't close, drape a shawl or sweater wrap over it, or the ponchos that are very fashionable this season are warm and will always look like they fit.

Black is the most slimming and versatile color, especially when worn both on top and bottom, but Kozlow Gardner and Serota also recommend adding touches of color, like colored shoes or a bright shirt under a cardigan or jacket.

The last piece of advice from the Belly Basics ladies to new mothers is to not give up on appearance.

"Blow dry your hair, put on your makeup. Bring the bassinet into the bathroom if you have to," says Serota.

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