Until recently, Lisa Lucchese, 44, took no pleasure in fashion. "I dressed to not be naked," she says. She wore the same thing every day to her job as a private nurse—dark tank top, sweats, and big, dark shirts she thought would mask her hips. "I never looked in mirrors," she says.
Lisa was severely overweight and had been for years: "I went on my first diet in high school to try to lose 15 pounds. After I got married and had kids, I started to put on weight. Food was the center of my universe. I ate when I was bored, when I was stressed, when I was down. I tried every diet. But I was so big—285 pounds—that the thought of losing 140 pounds was overwhelming."
She finally realized that dieting alone wouldn't work for her: "I remember thinking, 'I have no life. I can't move. I'm out of breath.'" Her mother had undergone gastric bypass surgery in 1998 and lost 180 pounds, and her sister had the procedure in 2006 and took off 160 pounds. In the fall of 2007, Lisa had surgery, too. Eleven months later, she reached her goal weight of 145 pounds, and with the help of two support groups, she's kept it off. Now she wants clothes to match her personality. "I want to look as good as I feel," she says. "I don't want to dress blah."
When O magazine's creative director, Adam Glassman, visits Lisa at her home, he notices that her wardrobe makes her look as if she's in mourning—lots of black, brown, and navy (in other words, blah). Going through her closet, they find a number of giant-sweatpant outfits and pairs of "mommy jeans" (high-waisted, pleated, ample in the rear). The remaining pieces are a mishmash of bright fabrics and prints, a departure from Lisa's go-to dark colors.
"As I lost weight, my sister gave me hand-me-downs," she explains. "She's a little flashier than I am—she's an artist—so her pieces don't really fit with mine. But I never like to spend money on myself. My kids need stuff, so I buy for them."
"Lisa has always put herself last," says her mother. "I think she was intimidated by her older sister." It's true, Lisa says. "One thing I'm hoping to get out of this is to discover my personal style. Not my sister's."