Fat store review: Lee Lee’s Valise

If you follow fatshion and you’re lucky enough to live in New York, you’ve probably at least heard of Lee Lee’s Valise, a sweet little plus-size boutique in Brooklyn. But if, like me, you are only an occasional visitor to the city, you may not be aware of it, or you may be wondering whether it’s worth it to seek the place out.

The answer is yes. First of all, I’m wildly in love with Brooklyn right now, and Carroll Gardens is fabulous. But the shop itself is also a great resource. Offhand, I can only think of a couple of other similar places — I know there’s one in Chicago, and one in Vancouver, but for the most part, fatties who want high-end clothes are reduced to scouring the Plus sections of various websites. There aren’t many niche stores that will gather beautiful items together for you. If you want a store full of clothes that fit, you can go to Lane Bryant; if you want a store full of beautiful clothes, you can go anywhere else. For beautiful clothes that also fit, you’re on your own.

And man, Lee Lee’s Valise carries some beautiful clothes. I saw some of the cheaper stuff, like Size Appeal, but also Trentacosta, Igigi, C.enne.V, Svoboda, Kiyonna, and my personal favorite, the impossibly beautiful and totally unaffordable Tadashi (who doesn’t make nearly enough plus stuff — I spent a while grousing about that). The stock is definitely skewed towards professionals, even towards middle-aged women, though there were many pieces that I found appropriately youthful (I’m 27 and wear jeans to work). But even when they’re a little too matronly or roomily cut for me, these are a pretty fucking far cry from muumuus and cat applique sweaters. Everything I saw was reliably gorgeous.

In addition to being designed for professionals, the clothes are definitely priced for professionals. But with the boutique prices, you get boutique service. Lisa, the proprietor, spent literally hours helping me find bras and jeans and dresses, and dishing about the state of plus-size fashion. I know a lot about fattie clothes, just as a personal protective measure, but Lisa knows a lot and she knows it from an insider’s perspective. We can all complain about inconsistent sizing, for instance, but Lisa has everyone’s size chart memorized. It was a surreal experience talking to her in front of my thin mother — it was like we were speaking in code, like we had access to some kind of secret parallel universe full of strange creatures like “svobodas” and “igigis.” (It did weird me out a little that she referred to “queen” and “missy” sizes, when everyone else I know talks about “plus” and “straight.” I find both “queen” and “missy” to be a little patronizing. But that’s a minor niggle.)

Lisa’s a larger-than-life personality and will happily manhandle you if she thinks it’s necessary, so she’s probably an overwhelming presence for a shrinking violet. I think most Shapelings wouldn’t be able to get enough of her, though. She can size you up for clothes and bras almost instantly, and is tireless about helping you find the next size down or the next size up or a pair without those funny back pockets. And what I appreciated even more is that she is completely unapologetic about being fat or stocking clothes for fatties. I got a different vibe from some of the other employees, who struck me as having more of a “well we all have to wear clothes, even if we’d really rather be thin” attitude. (I heard comments about all big girls wanting to look smaller, and “isn’t it nice to wear a zero” jokes about size 0X.) Lisa, though, would fit right in here — size for her seems to be about whether the clothes fit you right, not about whether you’re a virtuous person or a pig. I even talked about pants that are now too big on me, and she didn’t make any comments about how great it was that I lost weight, which is what you’d expect from a salesperson who was trying to blow smoke. I don’t think the woman has a self-conscious or fat-hating bone in her body, and I really hope her attitude wears off on her customers, because NYC is not an easy place to be fat in.

In fact, if you go, it might be worth it to call ahead of time (like we did) and make sure Lisa will be around. Her attitude is infectious and her knowledge is encyclopedic, so if you’re going to need any help, she should be the one to help you. I really wasn’t that impressed with what I heard from the other clerks, though they seemed nice enough — I just have a limited tolerance for “oh ha ha we all need to hide our figure flaws” smalltalk.

I picked a bad time to go because I’ve been particularly choosy about my clothing lately, not really buying anything unless I think it will become an invaluable staple, so I walked out with just a couple of bras. But I’ll probably go back next time I’m in the city, just to see what’s new, and to try on more jeans (the Svobodas made my ass look great but were way too high-waisted, but more styles are coming in soon!). Meanwhile, Lisa’s already got plans for world domination, and the store’s only six months old. Anyone who can get her featured in a magazine or TV program should get on it, but she mostly thrives on word of mouth, so if you’re in NYC or visiting, you should pay her a visit. Even if you walk out nearly empty-handed, like I did, it’s worth it for the personal attentiveness and just for the privilege of being in a store full of beautiful clothes you can actually wear.

23 thoughts on “Fat store review: Lee Lee’s Valise

  1. Damn! I wish I were going to NY sometime soon. Although I shouldn’t complain too much. I have two plus size boutiques within 2 blocks of my house, and a plus size consignment store within a 1/2 mile. I love where I live.

  2. Fillyjonk- I am so happy to hear that! I am planning my first trip to NYC in January. I am going out with my boyfriend and his fat hating best friend, though, so I will have to strike out on my own. In the meantime, where is the store in Chicago? I am often in town visiting my family (I live in Indiana). Unlike you, I have been buying everything in sight :)

  3. God, I wish we had something like this in Sydney. Australian plus-size clothing stores are few and far between, and tend to carry mumsy clothes. So I buy on the internet or wait for my next overseas trip. I will definitely visit this place next time I am in NY (which is a fat girl’s clothing paradise, anyway, if you ask me).

  4. I will definitely visit this place next time I am in NY (which is a fat girl’s clothing paradise, anyway, if you ask me).

    Is it? Aside from Lee Lee’s and some chain stores in Harlem I can’t think of too many places that cater to fat girls in NYC. It would just figure if there were more, though — my city is totally fat and has zero clothing options (not even a Lane Bryant within the city limits), and NYC is generally considered to sneer at fat (what with the actors and fashion) but has places like Lee Lee’s.

  5. Bwooklyn! Where I was BOAN, baby!

    FJ, the LB on 34th Street has a much bigger selection than most of the mall stores. At least it seemed that way to me. And I was pretty impressed with the plus women’s department at Lord & Taylor when I was there 2 years ago, though YMMV, of course. But this place you describe sounds like Teh Siht. If the Shapelings do indeed meet in NYC this spring, maybe we could combine a trip there with a trip to either Grimaldi’s or DiFara’s?

  6. Oh hell yeah, if we convene in NYC we are going to Lee Lee’s like CRAZY. We will take the place over. (We should maybe warn Lisa first.)

    DiFara’s is pretty far from Carroll Gardens, but I’m sure we can work out the proper combination of subway lines to get there. Prospect Park, Greenwood, and Soda (a bar near my sister’s place in Prospect Heights) would also be good places for Shapelings. I’m really crazy about Bklyn right now.

  7. Happily, I live in NY and went to LeeLee’s at the beginning of the summer. I was feeling down about myself, having gained weight recently (from a size 18 to a 22.) But, the kind folks at this gem of a store turned me around. I found 2 tops that I love and that go me through the summer. Those tops and LB’s Right Fits changed everything.

    First time in a long time, I feel as if I deserve beautifully made clothes that fit. And, the beautiful packaging rocks. We need more like LeeLee.

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  9. Holy crap — I had NO IDEA this place existed and it’s near my work neighborhood. Thanks thanks thanks for the heads up!

  10. charlie, quite possibly! I just know from some Vancouver fatshionistas that there is a rather pricey plus-size boutique (even though Vancouver is also a tough city to be fat in).

    Suzanne, glad to help! Hope you have a great time there.

  11. I am totally stoked to hear your review of this store. I’ve been in mad want of a trip there since they opened. Man, every now and then I get a little niggle of regret that it didn’t work out for me to move to NYC last year and it is usually triggered by this store. *grin*

    Also, that’s a great distinction between being genuinely fat-accepting and being… “isn’t it great to be a size 0.” I think the two stances are vastly different and I’m finding myself to have limited tolerance for the latter.

  12. fillyjonk, what range of sizes does she carry?

    I’d be in for an NYC Shapeling gathering. :) And I’ve been living in this city for eight years now and have yet to eat Grimaldi’s OR DiFara’s, so I’d better get on it! (One of my “things I really need to get around to doing in my own city” is to finally start trying all of the pizza joints that always make the top ten on lists in places like Time Out and NY Mag.)

  13. Sue, I’m glad you asked that because otherwise I wouldn’t have realized that my link to her site wasn’t working! She says she carries sizes 10-28, though I didn’t check up on that. Not every item is laid out in every size, as it’s a small place, but she did tell me a couple of times that she had more sizes in the back. I’ve also got a suspicion that if she had a regular customer or two who wore a 30+, she would be willing to either special order or look into expanding her base range of sizes (even though it would probably mean expanding the designers she carries). The level of customer service is pretty incredible.

    I heard that DiFara’s is the best pizza ever. I’m not a big pizza enthusiast, especially New York style, but I’d try it out… I mean, the best pizza ever has to be pretty good even if you don’t love pizza, right?

  14. Vancouver, BC. Bodacious is on main and, um, … 28th?

    (checking)

    Oooh! I got it! Bodacious Link
    They have sizes 10-24. I have several friends who’ve got their dresses, and I’m waiting to have a little extra money to do the same.

  15. I used to to shop at bodacious but haven’t for a couple of years, their quality isn’t that great compared to their prices. It’s now pretty much the same stuff at penningtons but a WAY higher prices. I don’t recommend them anymore!

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  17. Did you tell Lisa about your impressions of the clerk’s attitudes? Because I think that’s the kind of thing she ought to know–and maybe she’ll even understand enough to consider having a FA attitude part of the criteria for working there.

  18. There is a high end plus-size clothing store here in Winnipeg, it’s called Sue’s. It’s really lovely, and definitely a boutique as opposed to a box store.

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