For Carolina women, these colorful custom designs perk up any occasion

AnnaBelle LaRoque
Credit: Gary Clark

If "one size fits all" never applies to you, you'll love AnnaBelle LaRoque's philosophy on clothing. "No one should ever have to settle for 'almost right,' " says the 27-year-old founder of LaRoque, a women's custom clothing boutique in Columbia. Her specialty: tweaking, nipping, or even overhauling her own designs to meet her customers' needs and tastes. The clothes—poised and classic with a few fun, flirty touches—work for 40-somethings seeking that combo of stylish and age-appropriate attire and teens going to their first dance. "A dress may look adult, but when you raise the hem and cut out the back, it feels younger," explains AnnaBelle. "We can also add fun details like buttons, monogrammed sashes, or a gorgeous ruffled neckline."

This University of South Carolina grad was a medical sales rep (and nonseamstress) when she decided to make herself a skirt. Four months later, she had quit her job to sell skirts fashioned from upholstery fabric. Then came her Carolina Cup idea: making custom dresses for the spring event. Flyers on the USC campus yielded 78 orders; within a year, she opened her boutique, expanding the handmade line to include skirts, blouses, and dresses. AnnaBelle also makes bridesmaid dresses and cummerbunds and bow ties for groomsmen.

While LaRoque is available in 19 stores in the Southeast, the designer is quick to say, "Everything I design is still made in this state. That's one detail that I won't change."