Do pregnant women really need maternity wear?
IF A 15-year French study can discover that even the humble bra is a "false necessity", it's only a short leap to wonder if the maternity wear industry is similarly kept alive by flawed assumptions and a reliance on the principles of wants rather than needs.
I've long suspected that the brands and stores specialising in clothing created to accommodate baby bumps represent little more than opportunistic attempts to part women from their money at a vulnerable time of their lives.
Dedicated pregnancy wear includes tunics, ponchos, swinging shirts, floating tops - and dresses that swirl and wrap.
But when it comes to maternity swimwear and hosiery you have to wonder if the designers are having a laugh.
Aren't togs by definition already stretchy?
I know that my existing (non-pregnancy) swimwear managed to accommodate my baby bump - as did my regular tennis skirts which conveniently contained up to 14 per cent Spandex and therefore had impressive powers of expansion.
Similarly, I wore a lot of those long, finely-meshed, stretchy tops that were all the rage ten years ago; they fitted perfectly over my growing bump.
I made only two specific purchases for very late pregnancy: one was a long, black fishtail-type of skirt two sizes larger than my normal size and the other was a long blue denim maternity skirt with an adjustable elastic waistband secured by buttons at each side.
Of the two items, I liked the black skirt far better. It felt like a mainstream fashion item rather than a frumpy piece of purpose-built equipment with an integrated expanding waist system as seen on clothes for toddlers.
Obviously all women are different.
In some pregnancies, bellies start expanding from day one making maternity wear appealing from very early on.
But other bellies take their sweet time to grow and these mothers-in-waiting are able to wear their regular clothes until those last couple of months of pregnancy.
So then, one or two oversized items of clothing may end up being vital purchases. But does any woman seriously require a whole new wardrobe of clothes for just two months?
And, anyway, who can afford such an expense at a time when shopping for the new arrival is likely to be a priority?
Yet the hype fed to us from the maternity industry would suggest we're missing out if we don't take the opportunity to extravagantly dress our pregnant bodies.
I'm not the only one to question the point of maternity wear. As one blogger wrote at Why I try to avoid maternity clothes, "[i]t didn't make sense to fork over a lot of dough for something I'd wear for only a few months."
This woman wasn't impressed with the aesthetics either, admitting she "felt swallowed up by these oversized tents with awful prints."
The writer at Some Words About Maternity Clothes didn't mince her words, saying: "maternity shopping is just so ... ugh" and "[h]as it always been like this, the weird commodification of pregnant women? The whole thing made me feel vaguely sleazy, and not just because I ended up paying $25 for a black t-shirt that would have been half the price anywhere else."
It seems that those of us who are sceptical about pregnancy clothing are in good company.
Is Kate Middleton avoiding maternity wear? notes the "Duchess of Cambridge ... has yet to wear anything from a maternity line" and "so far ... is sticking to non-maternity clothing in her closet."
What Kate Wore, a website that breathlessly records all the Duchess' outings and forensically analyses her every outfit, recently declared about one patterned shift: "The frock is most definitely not a maternity dress ... I can't imagine many expectant mothers would look at it and say, 'Hmmm, that will work when I'm seven months along'."
Perhaps this royal mum-to-be will go down in history for singlehandedly crippling the maternity-wear industry and exposing the fact that at heart it's a cynical marketing ploy predicated on the insecurities of pregnant women.