The way Lea Gilmore sees it, you can be full-figured and feel bad, or you can dress with style and confidence. The assistant director of the Maryland American Civil Liberties Union chose the latter.
Years ago, she traded in her big tops and polyester pants for a creative bohemian style. And she's never looked back.
But, she acknowledges, some things are easier to find than others.
"I really like buying jewelry," says the 30-year-old mother of two. "You don't have to worry about anything fitting over your hips."
How would you describe your work attire?
It ranges from business suits to jeans. The work we do is intense, but we have a very casual atmosphere. It's nice to not have to worry about having a run in your stockings.
Have you ever worn something casual on a day when you were supposed to be dressed up?
I'm prepared: I keep an outfit in the trunk of my car -- pumps, stockings, a suit. I also have an iron, lipstick and a mirror in my office.
What clothing is in your trunk now?
A blue business suit with a gold pin, a white shirt, navy pumps and a matching purse. That's my uniform.
When did you last wear it?
Three weeks ago. I realized after I came to work that I had a board meeting. I had on a long skirt, granny boots and a full top. I had no time to go home and change, so I pulled that suit out.
How would you define your style?
I like loose-fitting, '60s-style clothes. Long gauzy skirts, colorful earth tones, tights. Just because I'm a large woman, I don't want to wear a tent.
How long have you been dressing this way?
Since my early 20s. I found my style then: I'm someone who likes to be comfortable. Nothing is more comfortable than a long pretty skirt and flats.
Has it been tough finding styles you like in your size?
At one time, it was. There used to be this mentality that if you were large, you had to wear a mu-mu or polyester pants. But there are lots of large women who don't want to be stereotypes. I've been on every diet created by man. I finally woke up one day and said, "Wait, I have to live now, and I'm going to look good." Before that, I would only wear pants and long tops.
What did you do then?
I went shopping, and I haven't stopped since.
What stores do you like?
Nordstrom Rack, Lane Bryant, Macy's, C-Mart and Syms. I shop at least once or twice a week.
What's been your best buy?
I got a red Liz Claiborne suit from an outlet in Pennsylvania. It was $185 marked down to $22.95. It has gold buttons and black trim. It's very elegant. I don't even wear it for business. It's my night-at-the-opera suit.
Which outfit best sums you up?
Black palazzo pants with a black patterned jacket and a black shell. I like Afrocentric clothing. I love the colors, the kente cloth and the beautiful patterns.
What in your closet is least "you"?
A gray pinstripe suit with a short skirt and bolero jacket. It's so restrictive that I feel like I'm in a straitjacket.
Are there things you avoid because of your figure?
Spandex. I know I do not look good in neon Spandex pants.
Who would you most like to invite on your next shopping trip?
Fran Drescher. I like her devil-may-care, knock-out, shouldn't-be-put-together-but-is style. I also like Maya Angelou. Her look is elegant and Afrocentric.
How would you finish this thought: "I'll know I'm a great dresser when "
When Oprah Winfrey calls from Chicago and asks me for dressing tips.
Do you know some dressers? Let us know. Write to Mary Corey, The Baltimore Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.