A Fashion Week for Plus Sized Women


“OK, so they had regular Fashion Week a few weeks ago, right? So I decided this week is Fashion Week for plus sizes!” the owner of Lee Lee’s Valise tells me. “We have two designers here tonight—it’s actually a trunk show. We’re showing spring! Think about it: When do you get to see spring in advance as a plus-size consumer?”

Lee Lee, who is wearing a black-and-white leopard-print wraparound dress enhanced with glitter flowers and a big L in diamonds around her neck, is hosting this open house at her five-month old boutique on Court Street in Brooklyn, where the slogan is “12 to 24 and so much more.”

I have ridden the F train to Lee Lee’s (“You left Manhattan? Did you take car service?” incredulous friends sneer) because the end of traditional New York Fashion Week has left me hungry—hungry for clothes that will fit the legion of American women bigger than size 14, hungry for things people can actually afford, hungry for the kind of rapidly disappearing neighborhood hangout that Lee Lee’s represents.

In fact, I’m hungry right now. But though many of the visitors look like they really enjoy digging into a good meal, there’s nothing to snack on, just liberal doses of champagne. (A bowl of what I think are candies turn out to be multicolored glass earrings.)

Lee Lee’s storefront, a former longshoreman’s clubhouse, now sports chic white walls and chandeliers painted black. The bonhomie this evening—maybe it’s the champagne—reminds me of Mr. Pinky’s Hefty Hideaway, where Tracy Turnblad and her mom, Edna, go for new wardrobes. In any case, everyone is having a very good time, pre-ordering items like the gown Lee Lee calls the Barbie dress, a long expanse of ombred silk. “When do you see anything like the Barbie dress?” she asks me. “The shading usually goes from top to bottom on dresses, but on this one it goes from left to right—it’s more slimming!”

I talk to Jessica Svoboda, who designs plus-size jeans and is a ringer for Mariel Hemingway, if that actress would just put on a few pounds. “We do all of the things that are happening in the rest of the jeans world— the dark dyes, the waxing,” she says. We chat about the state of things on the other side of the fashion universe, where a 12-year-old girl was recently named the official ambassador of Gold Coast Fashion Week in Australia, and about how cheering it is to watch old ’60s beach-party movies and see normal-ish women cavorting in bathing suits.

Then I go home, where I am happy to see that the new diet books I ordered have arrived. Because, much as I embrace the notion that we’re all beautiful no matter how big or small, I am still an American woman, which apparently entitles me to be at least a little neurotic about my weight. (Full disclosure: I am twice over a lifetime member of Weight Watchers! I got the gold stars! I pay $16.95 a month so I can log on to their website!)

I fall avidly upon my advance copy of Skinny Bitch in the Kitch: Kick-Ass Recipes for Hungry Girls Who Want to Stop Cooking Crap (and Start Looking Hot!) and the original Skinny Bitch, the book that really took off when Victoria Beckham—not exactly known as a reader—was seen carrying a copy.

Though I have purchased many diet books in my life, I am a novice when it comes to the Skinny Bitch oeuvre. I know that the authors Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin are notoriously sassy—”Junk food has a shelf life of 22 years and will probably outlive your fat sorry ass,” they bark—but I didn’t realize that not only do they enforce a strict vegan diet, but they also impose such Draconian directives as “Don’t eat lunch until you’re close to ravenous” and, believe it or not, “Donate blood. You can save a life and lose weight at the same time.” They also instruct you to employ daily affirmations and offer the following as a sample: “Every day in every way my thighs are getting thinner.”

What kind of diet secrets are these? Near starvation, blood-letting, inane mantras? At least Weight Watchers lets you have a slice of cake on your birthday and the occasional lick of Mister Softee.

Such subversive thoughts lead me to respond positively when the publicist for Burlington Coat Factory asks if I’d like to meet with a person she calls their “Coat Coach.” Sure, I reason, still in a plus-size state of mind—let’s see what they recommend for the big girls. So I go over to Burlington’s Chelsea branch, which is just as depressing as I remember it: glaring overhead lights, rack upon rack of undifferentiated merchandise, horrible blaring music. The Coat Coach, who also goes by the name the “Savvy Mommy” (a sobriquet only slightly less annoying than the currently popular “yummy mummy”) is very nice, as the best mommies are, and informs me that Burlington sells a staggering seven-and-a-half-million coats a year, 20 percent of which are plus-size. (And that isn’t counting the size 14s and 16s hanging in the regular department, which are, believe me, plenty roomy.) But then the Coat Coach/Savvy Mommy leads me to a rack of sad wool numbers that, plus size or not, would have you running for the thrift shop in search of something equally affordable and far more amusing.

I do better wandering around in the plus-size department by myself, where I quickly notice a very zippy silver-and-black Rocawear parka with a mysterious fur collar that may or may not be Asiatic raccoon, which is some kind of dog and actually caused a bit of scandal last year when some manufacturers claimed it was faux fur. (Apparently, real dog is less expensive than fake fur.)

But happily, no such doggie drama surrounds my find of the afternoon: a gauzy, black-beaded evening wrap that is a ridiculously reasonable $34.99. It won’t keep you warm, and you’ll have to brave Burlington to find it (hint: It’s on the main floor in the plus-size suit department), but it will have all those skinny bitches eating your dust.