"When you walk into a room and you are a full-sized woman, you are going to be looked at. Well, give them something to look at!"
Liz Dillon's words to the women who attended her "Fully Fabulous" seminar sponsored by Chezelle met with laughter and applause. During a luncheon at Cross Keys, women dressed in colorful, stylish fashions over size 14 stood and stretched their arms over their heads, participating enthusiastically in the confidence-building exercises Dillon led. Over healthy servings of soup and chicken salad, the women talked about the state of plus-sized dressing. The general agreement was that plus sizes have come a long way, baby.
"I don't like tents," says Lois Weisman, who traveled from Washington, D.C. for the seminar and was shopping for a stylish jacket. "I wish all the manufacturers would make regular clothes for heavier people. I know I'm heavy. I'd like to look like a regular person."
"At one time, large sizes were always dark, blacks and browns. So many more fashions have become available. Now you find large fashions that are the same as the ones in the smaller-size departments," says Louise Owens, an adviser at Community College of Baltimore dressed in a tailored ivory dress trimmed with gold accent buttons.
"We were always stylish women. We just got bigger and bigger," chimed in her friend Mildred Campbell, a home-maker in a pretty pink linen dress. "You don't change who you are when you gain weight." Campbell likes jewelry, for example, but is frustrated at the poor fit of average costume jewelry pieces. She buys real gold, she says, not only because of her taste but for its more flexible sizing.
"Most bracelets come seven inches long and that's not wide enough," agreed Owens. "We have to wear good jewelry because costume is too small."
Molly Golden, owner of the "American Pie" antique store on Howard Street, came to the seminar dressed in a dramatic orange and green knit outfit and wore coordinating Bakelite plastic bracelets she collects.
"Just because I'm larger doesn't mean I can't wear bright colors," says Golden. "I try to get one good outfit a season. My lifestyle doesn't require a lot of business clothes, so I wait for something special." Golden was looking for bold clothing ideas at the seminar. "I will probably get something really outlandish," she predicted, running nubby-textured fabric through her fingers.
Plus-sized figures are individual, women say. Pulling an outfit together takes quite a bit of effort.
"I stay away from belts because I have a wide waistline," says Golden, who chooses to accessorize with scarves and big earrings.
My proportion is heavy in the trunk, but my legs are normal," says Danielle Fleischer, an interior designer. "Everything I buy has to be altered. Because my weight fluctuates, it's a little tricky. Last year I lost some weight and gave away all my clothes. Now I've gained it back. I don't want to spend a lot -- $700 or $800 -- on an outfit I might not be able to wear."
She also eschews high heels because of her size. "As you gain weight all over, your feet get wider. You can't wear high heels for a very long time because your feet must carry all the extra weight," says Fleischer.
Owens prefers boutique shopping, where she likes specialized service to go with the sizes, including alterations on the premises.
While most women agreed that colors, sportswear and career styles have improved in the large-size market, there are some areas that need to expand.
"Lingerie is still hard to find," says Owens. "For years, it was hard to find a color other than white or black. I've found the Spiegel catalog is a good source." Samuels likes Vanity Fair lingerie, which manufactures the same styles in plus and standard sizes.
What do the women think are the secrets to carrying plus-sized fashion off? "Be open to things," said Samuels. "Sometimes a larger person thinks, 'I can't wear that. You should clear your mind and just try things on."