Like many women, I’ve always loved clothes. Goth dresses helped me express my angst as a teen. Tailored separates and power suits telegraphed my role as a fearless corporate leader in my 20s and 30s (to offset my crazy punk rock clown haircolor). But somewhere in my 40s, clothing designers stopped loving me. Now at age 53, the selection both in stores and online would indicate they’re not even aware I exist.

But I’ve found a solution — a designer who doesn’t just make clothes for me — she makes me feel like her muse. Lara Popa lives in Romania, and she custom-sews clothing with respect — reverence, even — for my midlife curves and an abiding understanding that while my measurements may have changed through the decades, I’m still 35 inside. I have the same sense of adventure, and I want what I wear to reflect that. I like vivid colors and asymmetrical hemlines, and I want to be noticed. Lara has created a number of designs for me over the last couple years, for department-store prices. And she hasn’t just changed my closet — she’s changed my life. Having clothing custom created has been a boon in ways that surprise me still.

I feel even better about my body. I’ve always been body positive, whatever my scale happens to say that day. And for most of my adult life, my 5’5” frame remained a steady 125 pounds, seemingly immune to Mexican happy hours and heavy client dinners. But when I moved from San Diego to the midwest (Land of Everything Potato Based) at 45, and simultaneously also went into menopause, the weight creeped on. I gained 5–10 pounds a year between 45 to 53, particularly when I went off my hormone replacement therapy. Like many women in menopause, I felt a primal urge to evolve and reinvent myself, and I wanted that evolution to include my clothing. The styles I loved, however, didn’t fit my body. The size charts I perused online were often based on a boyish or hourglass form, rather than my squishy pear shape. They may as well have been sized for another species! When I stumbled on Lara’s site,, and measured my body for Lara to custom create for me, suddenly it removed the troubling feeling that my beautiful, strong, powerful body was “too big” for regular shopping. The clothes fit just right. My body was just right.

Teyxo Styles- Lara Popa

I’m saving a crazy amount of time. I used to spend hours at stores, bring an armful of clothing into the dressing room, wriggle into each of them desperately, and leave empty handed, having burned the better part of a Saturday. Online shopping wasn’t much better. I am massively in love with the internet, but clicking my way to ready-made clothes has been a bummer. I’ve added so many pieces to a shopping cart, only to abandon it when I realized that there’s no way they would fit. Like millions of other women in America, I’m different sizes on the top (8/10) and bottom (10/12) — and finding a dress that fits was damn near impossible. Now that Lara has my exact measurements on file, I may need to find a hobby other than scrutinizing online size charts.

Oh, the attention. My made-to-order dresses speak loudly. They have ruching, gathered hems, fun details like leather appliques, and cool draping, and like me, they will not be ignored. Wearing one of Lara’s custom asymmetrical blouses, I recently walked into a rooftop party of 200 millennials. I felt like a million. I got compliments. A fellow mingler used my shirt as a conversation starter. And when I wore a stunning fringed fancy kaftan to the Peabody Awards in NYC, people crossed the room to ask me about it. This wouldn’t have happened wearing Chico’s. (Sorry, Chico’s.)

Dana Todd Peabody Awards
I’ve developed a soul-sustaining friendship. Last year, while in Bucharest for business, I seized the chance to meet up with Lara. She’s an actress/filmmaker in addition to a designer and seamstress, and as I had a hunch she would be from her line, she’s so vivacious, she practically had emoji hearts and stars trailing off her! We went clubbing and had loads of laughs, but serious discussions too. Romania is only recently reinventing itself after Communism, and like most citizens, Lara’s side hustle has its own side hustle. Supporting this talented woman and her dreams makes me feel as incredible as wearing her clothes.

I launched a new business for women everywhere like me. Discovering how good custom clothing made me look and feel spurred me to want to do the same for other women. Nothing gives me more confidence than having a mission, and this is mine now. My new startup, Balodana (pronunciation: rhymes with banana) will connect women with bespoke fashion designers who create custom designs of all kinds of clothing, from basics to fancy dress. In my office, I have a vision board for how Balodana will dress women — a riot of women with wildly different shapes, all radiating confidence, power and energy. I wake up every day knowing this is what I’m meant to be doing right now. I believe very strongly in Divine Providence. My whole life has been a series of opportunities that have been presented to me, and discovering custom clothing was the catalyst for this one. I’m creating a choice that most women don’t realize they have. Online and in-store mass clothing aren’t the only choices we have, ladies. There’s a third path, and I can’t wait to share it.