New-mom-to-be Brooke Shields bursting out this month as the first pregnant supermodel on the cover of Vogue. A resplendent (or gaudy, depending on whom you talk to), Catherine Zeta-Jones fanning herself with the pleats of her toffee-brown, specially designed Versace muumuu at last week's Oscars. A very proud and pregnant Dixie Chick strumming her steel guitar in the music video for "Landslide."

Bow down, all non-breeders, the time has come for the "new" pregnant. And I'll say this--it's better than the old pregnant. You know what I'm talking about, the dowdy Princess Di-meets-Laura Ashley look (polka dots and Peter Pan collars) or the '70s-era earth mama who traded frowsy frocks for greasy-kid-stuff tees and open-fly dungarees.

Today pregnancy is chic, confident, label-conscious, fit as a fiddlehead, and, perhaps newest and most shocking of all, sexy. It's as if expectant glammies such as couture-swaddled, red-carpet-waddling Mrs. Michael Douglas are saying, "I'm hot enough for two." But can "real" moms compete with fertile, tough-but-pretty glamazons like Shields and Zeta-Jones?

Of course they can, but it can cost them.

The matchless star of the "hot pregnant" category is A Pea in the Pod, serving up designer preggo swag for moms who won't sacrifice style for a day, let alone nine months. The Pod, whose slogan is "Maternity Redefined," specializes in big-name, big-belly garments for the soigné mom-to-be. Pod boutiques lurk in upscale American malls (P-town is as yet Pod-free, alas; the nearest one is in downtown Seattle) and, considering the brands they stock, easily outclass their peer stores. Expect to pay $190 for a pair of red Chaiken cotton-Lycra cropped pants, $340 for feminine, silk-chiffon Anna Sui maternity dresses. The roomy robes and elastic-waist slacks also share rack space with high-priced Diane von Furstenberg wrap dresses, Earl Jeans, La Perla thong panties--even a Nicole Miller preggo wedding dress. Now that's modern!

Middle-market brands like Japanese Weekend, found at local maternity boutiques like Generations, ape Pod's method of fitted shapes and smooth, stretchy fabrics. And maternity-minded designers are getting smarter, too, putting a preggo spin on form-friendly fashion trends like last spring's peasant-blouse craze.

"I actually thought it would be harder to find cute clothes while I was pregnant," says May Shelstad, a first-time mother-to-be and Associate Product Line Manager for Nike women's apparel. "There aren't a ton of things out there, but there are a lot more trendy items--low-rise pants, for example--than I expected."

She describes the chains Motherhood, Mimi Maternity, and A Pea in the Pod as the "Old Navy, Gap and Banana Republic" of pregnancy gear. Although she considers Pod's prices "astronomical," she doesn't mind shelling out a little extra, especially her favorite low-rise jeans, whose only wink at maternity is a subtle elastic panel in the back ($80).

"It's not hard to find basic, inexpensive maternity things, she says, citing Target's new partnership with maternity designer-to-the-stars Liz Lange, "but quality suffers. Since you don't buy many maternity clothes, you're wearing and washing them a lot." With cheaper pieces, she says, "Wear shows quickly." Surprisingly, she says she plans to wear most of her pregnancy wardrobe after her baby's born, proof that better design delivers.

Accidentally, I once wandered into a Pod because a retro-print sheath caught my un-maternal fancy. And that's the power of the new pregnant--making expectant mothers feel like normal shoppers, not some dumpy domestic angel with a dinosaur egg in her pants. Nike itself has been quick to hop on the breeder bandwagon, releasing its own line of maternity active wear (brainstormed by Lange), including stretchy, belled yoga pants and exercise tops.

Does Shelstad own any of the line? "I have all of it," she says. "And I wear all of it." But that doesn't mean she loves everything she sees beyond Nike's berm. "Too many things out there are 'baby-colored,' even during the holidays. Pale blue, pale pink, pale yellow and, weirdest of all, horizontal stripes! Everywhere! I just don't get that."

While it's a brave new world of pregnancy style, that doesn't mean all fashion rules should be broken--just the ones that don't hold water.

A Pea in the Pod , (877) 273- 2763

Mimi Maternity

Pioneer Place, 241-1536


4029 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 233-8130


First Thursday at Lulu's
Meet the boutique's artists and craftspeople amid smashing vintage fashions. Did I mention wine and snacks?
Lulu's Vintage, 1031 SW Morrison St., 241-1700. 5-9 pm Thursday, April 3.

Naked Shopping!
Red Light Clothing Exchange will host a co-ed naked shopping spree, contestants dashing down the aisles in a reverse strip-tease to win merchandise, cash and prizes.
Red Light Clothing Exchange, 3590 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 963- 8888. 7 pm Friday, April 4. All ages.