What It’s Like to Get the Personal-Shopper Treatment at Universal Standard

Photo: Courtesy of Universal Standard

As a curvier woman, I’d always accepted that shopping for clothes was going to be a demoralizing experience. I’m used to navigating a world where stores don’t necessarily carry your size — and where you have to wonder if that’s a hint that they don’t want you there. So when I found myself in Universal Standard’s sunlit fitting room, looking at myself in a mirror that stretched from the floor nearly to the ceiling, with a personal stylist asking me what I wanted for my spring wardrobe, I found myself experiencing something I’d never experienced before: a store that was actually taking me seriously as a consumer.

Universal Standard has come a long way since launching a collection offering sizes 10 to 28 in 2015. Founders Alexandra Waldman and Polina Veksler want to radically change the way people shop. To that end, they offer a fit liberty initiative, which allows you to exchange an item of clothing for a new size if your weight fluctuates (free of charge). Their website just debuted an online feature where you can view items modeled by women in your exact size. And recently, they did something unheard of: Every single item of clothing online and in their stores is now available in sizes 00 to 40.

The prospect of these initiatives sounded exciting for someone like me, who’s in between sizes and constantly trying to squeeze into Zara denim. So I headed to the Universal Standard Pop-Up in Soho to see if the “most size-inclusive brand in the world” could deliver on its starry-eyed promise.

From left: The author tries on Universal Standard’s midi skirt in pink Photo: Paola de VaronaAnd navy. Photo: Paola de Varona
From left: The author tries on Universal Standard’s midi skirt in pink Photo: Paola de VaronaAnd navy. Photo: Paola de Varona

The store lets you book a one-on-one session with one of its stylists to help guide your experience. Mine was with senior stylist Taylor Dennis, an easygoing Californian wearing the brand’s olive-green jumpsuit. She started by asking me what I wanted for my spring wardrobe, and I explained that I’m on the hunt for some good statement pieces. I have plenty of basics — what I want is to splurge on unique items.

Dennis left me in the fitting room for a few minutes and came back laden with skirts and jumpsuits. I have to say there is something particularly glamorous about having your wardrobe chosen by a stylist. Normally, I’m not a big fan of anyone shopping on my behalf because they don’t know my body like I do. But Dennis surprised me. Everything she picked looked great on me, and she struck a perfect balance of pieces that fit my style and ones I would never have pulled off the shelf. After I tried each item, she told me what worked and what didn’t, often adding styling tips that made me see the clothes in new ways.

Below, here are the six items she helped me find.

The Midi Skirt

The midi bias skirts in pale pink and navy blue were by far my favorite items. When I saw they had zippers, I was filled with dread. At stores like H&M I’m often right at the cusp of the biggest sizes they offer, and fitting into dresses or skirts with zippers is impossible. But these skirts went on smoothly and hugged my hips perfectly. The waistband wasn’t elastic; it was just a polished fit. The pale pink is a fresh color and pairs well with the brand’s white bandeau top.

The Jumpsuit

I’m usually a 12 to 14 in bottoms or a M to L in tops, but in Universal Standard’s sizing, I was in XS in this jumpsuit, which actually made me laugh out loud. (I don’t think I’ve ever been an XS in my life.) The material surprised me: It’s very stretchy and nicely hugs the body. I was thrown off by the tailoring. The jumpsuit hugged everywhere except the small of my back, which felt off to me. But Taylor thought the fitting was right, suggesting that the jumpsuit should have a looser fit. The rich olive-green color was my favorite, though they offer it in black as well.

The Gathered Dress

This is one of the most flattering jersey dresses I’ve ever tried on. The gathered detail to the side of the waist made the fabric fall nicely, and I can imagine this piece would look good on every body type. The fabric is light and airy. In a dove gray color, it makes for a great summer outfit.

The Statement Skirt

When I said I wanted statement pieces, this skirt from the Rodarte collaboration was exactly what I meant. At first I couldn’t figure out how to arrange the sash since it was extremely long, but Taylor suggested that I tie it in a bow across my waist. She even added that it’s removable, so it can be used as an accent around the neck. I do think I’d have to build up the courage to walk out in something this frilly, though.

The Bandeau Top

Bandeau tops can cut you off in odd places, so I was a bit wary, but this one was surprisingly flattering! It has a built-in band inside to offer extra support, so you could potentially go braless — which is always a plus, right? Taylor says she likes to layer these tops under sheer shirts, and I may just start doing the same.

The Jeans

These might be the first pair of jeans my five-foot self doesn’t have to cuff around the ankles. The fit felt tailor made for me. (Taylor suggests sizing down on these because they may run a little big and stretch after one or two wears.) All of Universal Standard’s denim is super stretchy, and the best part is that you can’t tell from looking — it doesn’t resemble jegging material. Trying them on and seeing how good they looked, I realized that I hadn’t even understood what I was missing at other stores. The truth is, we all deserve jeans that make our butts look bomb, and zippers that close without a fight.

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