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.