Big Girls Don’t Cry at Lee Lee’s Valise

Lee Lee's ValiseRight around the corner from where I live is the Mecca of fashion for plus-size women called Lee Lee’s Valise.  Regardless of the fact that this store’s sizing goes up to a size 28, with generous, stylish and must-have options for larger women, I feel less inclined to call Lee Lee’s Valise a plus-size store and rather an average-women’s size store because the merchandise starts at a size 10; right about the size when most women often start feeling ignored and excluded by fashion.  Instead of ignoring and shunning, Lee Lee’s Valise embraces the average size 10 to the plus size 28, along with all the sizes that fall in-between, with two big loving arms.

Now, you may be familiar with Lee Lee’s Valise because  they were not only featured many times on TLC’s show What Not To Wear, but the store also had its very own show, also on TLC, called Big Brooklyn Style.  Their presence on both these shows undoubtedly helped this store, located in Brownstone Brooklyn, further go from a local woman’s best kept secret to a store that is now known, loved and tagged as a “must visit” by  women visiting New York from all over the world.  Lee Lee’s Valise has customers as far away as Australia visiting and/or ordering their products online.

Often, to get tourists, or even the die-hard Manhattanites, to visit Brooklyn can be the equivalent of asking someone to swim across the Atlantic Ocean; few like to make the trek. Therefore, it makes you wonder how this store manages to get people visiting in droves from out of town.  Well, all it takes is one visit to the store to understand why people are happy to grab a map, a Metrocard and cross the East River.  The store, the service and the clothing are amazing.

If you’ve never been a larger woman, it’s hard to understand how incredibly difficult, insulting and frustrating it can be to shop for clothes and immediately feel like your body is too big, too lumpy, too voluptuous or (let’s just say it) too  fat.   Plus-size sections in departments stores have paltry selections that are often relegated to the attic or basements while conveying a subliminal message that this is all the larger woman is worthy of.  When you walk into Lee Lee’s Valise, it’s the complete opposite.   The store is beautifully laid out and full of options for any shape and size.  Options being the key word here, options are something that the plus-size woman rarely feels she has.   The experience at Lee Lee’s Valise is also very personal and extremely service based.  You will often find husband and wife owners, Lisa and Jim Dolan juggling several customers at once, instructing on fit and shape and just creating this loving, “everyone is beautiful”, environment, making easy to understand that if there are tears shed they’re tears of joy.

Lee Lee's Valise
Lisa Dolan makes women of all sizes beautiful at Lee Lee’s Valise

It’s also important to point out what Jim and Lisa Dolan (along with with daughter Melissa, who runs some of the operations off-site) are doing is more than running a business, they’re on a mission, something that all three of them work at tirelessly. According to Lisa Dolan’s bio, a motivating factor in Lisa’s decision to start Lee Lee’s Valise was her inability to find stylish clothes that fit her plus size body. Tired of being ignored by boutiques that only went up to size 10 and frustrated by years of painful shopping experiences, Lisa decided the only way to find the fashions she wanted to wear was to make them herself.  All products in the store, with the exception of things like SPANX, leggings and jeans (though it probably won’t be long before they’re making their own jeans) is designed by Lisa Dolan exclusively for the store and are items that you won’t find anywhere else.  After years not only being plus-sized but working with this woman, dressing, styling and designing and understanding her, Lisa has managed to capture something in her clothing that the fashion industry itself has been scratching their heads about and trying to figure out for decades.   The clothes fit, and they fit well.  Yet, it’s not just about the clothing and fit that makes this store the great resource, it’s the experience, the feeling of acceptance among women who have often felt ashamed of their bodies, along with a contagious enthusiasm that echoes throughout the store. Women don’t just leave the store with bags of new items for their wardrobe and a better understanding of how to dress their bodies, but with a new outlook on themselves.

While I find all of the items available at Lee Lee’s Valise incredibly figure flattering, attractive and stylish, I want to showcase my top 5 must-have picks, available only at Lee Lee’s Valise, that can be purchased online or in the store.  It should also be pointed out that all of Lee Lee Valise’s merchandise is manufactured in the United States.

My Top 5 Lee Lee’s Valise Must-Haves

The Mini Cami Mollie

Lee Lee's Valise

I don’t care what size you wear, everyone needs a Mollie.  This piece fits right over your bra and gives you cleavage coverage without adding extra bulk under your dresses or tops.  How many times have you had to tug and pull at your camisole or tank top that you wear under a deeper v-neck?  The Mollie eliminates this hassle.  Plus, the Mollie gives you options– sometimes showing the girls is fine and others times it isn’t.  When it isn’t, Mollie is there for the rescue!

The Franny

Lee Lee's Valise

The most important item to have in your wardrobe, I think, is the easy cardigan.   One of my favorite items at Lee Lee’s Valise is the Franny cardigan that feels as good as it looks.  It comes in a variety of colors, lengths and sleeve styles.  You can choose from the Petite Length Short Sleeve Franny (pictured middle), the longer 3/4 Ruched Sleeve or shorter sleeve (pictured left and right).  All Franny styles are available in a variety of colors, including fuchsia, red, orange, yellow, white, cream, purple and black, with new colors always being added.

The Melissa Dress

Lee Lee's Valise
Lee Lee’s Valise owner and designer, Lisa Dolan, modeling the Melissa Dress in a few of their current prints.

It’s rare that someone doesn’t come out of the dressing room wearing Lee Lee’s Valise’s Melissa Dress looking amazing.  The Melissa dress has a flutter sleeve (for cool arm coverage), gathers in the front and a flat smooth back.  The deeper v-neck can be left open to fill in with a necklace or, for coverage, it can be worn with a Mollie.

The Melissa Dress comes in a variety of prints and patterns, as well as black.

The Paula Pencil Skirt 

Lee Lee's Valise

Everyone is telling you that you should own a pencil skirt, but what’s a larger lady to do when she can’t find one that fits her?  Well, Lee Lee’s Valise’s Paula Pencil skirt isn’t only a great piece to have in any wardrobe, but it’s designed with the proportions of a larger woman in mind.  This style comes in a comfortable fabric, an elastic waist and has 4 1/2″ side vents.

Brianna Top 

Lee Lee's Valise

There is a reason I absolutely love the Brianna Top and, while that reason is highly personal, I’m sure you can relate: As a woman with a large chest and a smaller waist, when I see a relaxed or poet style top I seriously run in the other direction.  Whenever I try on tops like this I look like a big box because my my waist is bypassed by excess fabric of the top and my body winds up looking as wide as my large boobs and ample thighs.  Encouraged to try this top on (yes, even I, a curvier size 8, can wear some of the smaller items in this store), I was shocked and amazed that Lisa Dolan managed to create a relaxed top that skims the waist and creates definition in that area, while still being relaxed.  Instead of looking like a blobby mess, it seemed I could actually consider a style like this.  That is why I think you should too.  The Brianna comes in a variety of prints so check out their site for more options!

With my Top 5 items from Lee Lee’s Valise chosen, I realized that I could go on for days.  Other notable styles are the Carol Wrap Top, The Lauren Dress, The Lisa Wrap Dress, The Stephanie Sweetheart Dress, The Antonella Dress their High-Waisted Skirt in Organic Denim and the summer-must, Janet Maxi.  The great thing about the way this store works is they run many popular styles continuously in new prints and patterns.  Once you know which styles you like, you can check back often to purchase a new print or color.

Just check out Lee Lee’s Valise located at 348 Court Street in Brooklyn or on their website at and you’ll find your options are endless!