One Dress for Day and Night with the Universal Standard Geneva

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It takes a village… a little behind the scenes with my kid holding a sun shade during a photo shoot!

As the world begins to open, I think many of us are trying to figure out what to wear. Our clothes from Before Times may not fit our body, and may not fit our new lives. Change in the workplace, change in social life, and change in priorities and desires for what we put on our bodies; it's normal to feel you need a change in your closet but don't want to buy a lot of new things. This is the Universal Standard Geneva Dress; I own three of them and love them for their versatility.

Universal Standard Geneva Dress

The Universal Standard Geneva dress is one of the first pieces Universal Standard offered. Here is me wearing one way back in 2017. I thought the Geneva dress was so cool but I was clearly too short for it. I was thrilled that in 2018, Universal Standard began offering the Geneva in petite. Here I am in the petite Universal Standard Geneva dress back when petites launched.

Styling the Universal Standard Geneca dress for day and night
Wearing the Universal Standard Geneva dress over the past three and a half years. Still wearing the same Genevas I bought in 2018 and they look as new as the newer ones in my closet.

While this dress is made from Peruvian cotton knit, the asymmetrical hemline and cap sleeves elevate it from being a standard t-shirt dress and make it more versatile and easier to dress up and down. It comes in a variety of colors, Universal Standard even offers a long-sleeved version.

Go through my archives, and you'll see that I take a Universal Standard Geneva dress on most of my travels. To the beach, on a blogger trip to Palm Springs… it's the kind of piece I can glam up or down with a change of shoes and accessories and always seems to flatter, even when I'm not feeling well or I'm bloated.

In the Wardrobe Oxygen Community, someone shared this article at Huffington Post about going out tops and the discussion went into what in the world do we wear now as grown-ass women when going out? I realized often when I am in situations where I am going out and not sure what to wear… I grab one of my Geneva dresses. So I decided to share how I style the Geneva dress for day and night.

Styling the Universal Standard Geneva for Daytime

Universal Standard Geneva Dress in Berry with white Birkenstock Arizona sandals and a black belt bag worn as a shoulder bag as seen on Alison Gary of Wardrobe Oxygen

Let's start with the daytime. This is the exact look is wore this weekend to drop my kid off at an outdoor Girl Scout event, to run errands, and to visit my friend in her backyard for a late lunch. With my belt bag as a crossbody and my white Birkenstocks, the look is casual, functional, but not boring.

universal standard geneva dress

In the collage above, you see this is a popular way for me to wear the Universal Standard Geneva. I like using a crossbody to keep it looking casual and to mimic the asymmetrical hemline. I have dressed up this look slightly with brown sandals or flats and a brown leather crossbody bag, and have made it feel more sporty with a pair of sneakers.

universal standard geneva dress review 1

This dress works well with a topper; a denim jacket is a given but it also works with safari-inspired jackets that cinch at the waist as well as bomber jackets.

Styling the Universal Standard Geneva for Night

Alison wearing the berry Universal Standard Geneva dress with gold Margaux Uptown Sandals and carrying a raffia clutch in her hand.

Now, I wouldn't be wearing a Geneva to a cocktail party or a wedding, but it's a great dress for Date Night or an evening with your friends. The quickest way to dress up a look is with a change of shoes.

universal standard geneva dress reviews

Here I am wearing my Margaux Uptown Sandals which I have reviewed before; the slight platform and solid block heel aren't as precious and work with the jersey fabric. The soft muted metallic isn't too dressy and works as a low-contrast neutral letting the dress still take the spotlight. I know not everyone likes a heel this high; Margaux has the same shoe in a lower heel at this link; I've also shared some alternatives with lower heels below:

Shop Soft Muted Metallic Shoes for Summer:

universal standard geneva wardrobe oxygen

A switch from a bag with a strap to a clutch is also a quick way to elevate a look for the evening. I bought this raffia tote at a beachside boutique many many summers ago; it may be older than my child. I love it because it feels so summery and is also a neutral, working with so many different things in my wardrobe. While this bag is no longer available, I found similar ones online and share them below:

Shop Straw, Raffia, and Wicker Clutches for Summer:


Shopping for Our Future

I hope we learn from this past year, and take those lessons with us into the future. And one is that we all own a lot of clothes, and a lot of those clothes we own are unnecessary.

I am not sharing myself in the Universal Standard Geneva dress to say you need one for yourself (though I am not the only one to be obsessed with this dress), but to show the concept of versatility that goes beyond some capsule wardrobe or a social media ad about a garment that transitions from skirt to dress to top to jumpsuit to cape to backpack to tent. Versatility is personal, and versatility may already be in your closet.

You don't need a new dress for every occasion. You don't need 50 pairs of shoes or 50 pairs of jeans. And you likely already own enough right now to get by. Instead of “revenge shopping” to celebrate the opening of things, consider “mindful shopping” as you make wardrobe updates. Some of my tips for mindful shopping to buy less but have more style:

  1. Three or More: If you are buying something new, are there three or more ways for you to wear that piece? If you can't envision honestly wearing it three different ways for three different situations, it's not versatile enough to enter your wardrobe. Let's take the Universal Standard Geneva for example. I styled it here two different ways, but I also wear it with sneakers and a denim jacket in spring and fall, and I love wearing it with my brown saddle bag and brown Ally flats when I have client meetings or daytime work functions.
  2. Super Special: This is a dangerous category, because it's easy for us to convince ourselves of it when it's not true. But sometimes, there is something that is so special that it will add that necessary impact to your wardrobe. Staples are great, but sometimes a statement blouse or sequined skirt is the super special thing that elevates everything in our closet.
  3. Works With, Not Against: Do you still have a bag in the trunk of your car of things you needed to take to the dry cleaner from before lockdown? Do you own heels collecting dust because even when you're heading to a formal evening event you wear flats? Would you need to buy new Spanx/shoes/a minimizer bra/etc. to make that new item work? Are you convincing yourself that by time you wear the item you will be five pounds thinner or have a new job or a new beau or something that isn't existing now? Then you don't need it. These are items that are working again, not with you. And especially after this past year we had, we need to live in the now and dress for the now.
  4. Fits You and Your Lifestyle: This is essentially the third tip, but I have to reiterate it, and I have to add ethics. If you love a brand but you find it problematic, don't give it your money until it changes its ways. Instead of buying that dress, use that time and money to write the company, question them on social media, share what you know with friends, and find a retailer that fits not just your style but your beliefs. This can be how they treat Black employees, their feelings about unions, their lack of social justice, their lack of manufacturing transparency, where they make their clothes, what celeb is their spokesperson, their size range, their fabric usage, what politicians they support, what influencers they partner with, what brands they sell in their stores… we have so many options now on where to shop, we can truly vote with our wallets.
  5. Budget: Let's all agree to never go in debt for clothes ever again, okay? Exceptions are unexpected purchases for major events, and those major events aren't first dates or first girls' night in a year. We're talking funerals, job interviews, and elopement. No dress will change your life, and buying what you can't afford will only make you feel worse in the long run.
  6. Go Slow: Remember, you're not naked. You have enough right now, even if you hate it all. To prevent yourself to be in a situation a year from now where you again hate it all or have nothing to wear or nothing fits you or your lifestyle… shop slow. Make a list of what you need so you don't go off course. Buy items you think are a good choice, keep the tags on and try them on with all the other pieces in your closet you'd wear them with. And then hang them up carefully, sleep on it, and do it again with fresh eyes. Only then, can you truly get an idea that this item deserves to remain in your closet.

Shop the Post:

A woman with curly hair wearing a plaid blazer holds a green fur coat over her shoulder on a city street.

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  1. I have a petite Geneva dress and while I like it, I don’t love it. It’s the high-ish round neckline and cap sleeves. I am very, very sad that Universal Standard doesn’t make its v-neck, long-sleeved Geneva dress in petite size. (Yes, I’ve written the company to ask if they would consider doing so.) And also sad that its petite offerings seem to be shrinking, not expanding.

  2. I have a question about the shoes in this post. Do you find that when you get wider width shoes the ankle straps are also longer. I love the looks of the shoes in this post but as a plus size woman am not sure of the ankle straps will be long enough for me. I am curious about your experience with this. Thanks so much.

    1. Great question! I have that issue all the time; I have very thick ankles from walking on my toes and most ankle straps are too short. I wear these on the second to last hole, they are longer than a lot of styles.

    2. This is a great question. I have ankles relative to my size 11 feet — and find that ankle straps NEVER keep up with the increase in size. It’s like the same size is used in a size 4 as a size 11. Drives me insane!

  3. I own 3 Geneva dresses, one that is honestly a bit small for me now, one in the crepe fabric, and one that I bought at the sample sale in a size larger than my current size. The smaller dress was never a favorite, even when I was the right size, and I think it was because of the round neck. That type of neckline always looks terrible on me. The larger Geneva is a v-neck, and it looks so much better on me. When it first arrived, it was definitely too large, even by my standards, but I washed it hot water and dried it on high heat, and it shrank just enough for my liking. I love that dress. It fits more like a caftan, and I wear it with a long-sleeved shirt and tights in the winter, and with a tank top and sandals in the summer. The crepe Geneva is a round neck as well, but for some reason it doesn’t look as bad on me as my other round-necked Geneva, maybe because of the different fabric. I bought it to wear to a wedding, and I really loved it. The satin-backed crepe fabric is amazing–it really elevates the dress. I wore it with sleek, large-scale, modern jewelry and chunky metallic heels, and I felt like a million bucks at my cousin’s evening wedding and reception. I really haven’t worn it since then, but only because there hasn’t been any occasion to. I just bought a black v-neck Geneva in my current correct size off of Poshmark. I hope it will be a staple for me this summer.

  4. This dress intrigues me. I appreciate seeing all the ways you’ve worn it, especially with the Jean jacket.

    Question: what underpinnings do you wear with it? Thx.

  5. Isn’t it strange – I love your message about sensible shopping, using what we have etc. But I hate, hate, hate that dress. Hate it on you, hate it on the model on the website and am sure that I would hate it on anybody else. To me, it is one of the ugliest dresses ever. But I guess life would be dull if we were all the same.

  6. I have, in my returns pile, a berry Geneva just like the one you feature here. I want it to work SO BADLY. I love how it looks on you, how it looks on the website, how it looks on every other person on whom I have ever seen it photographed. But on me, it’s so weird and bunchy at the bottom. Is yours true to size? Should I have sized up? It seems like it fits, it’s just cut really weirdly. I almost wonder if mine is some kind of mistake and I should try another one. This is exactly the kind of piece I want to find, and the Geneva seems to fit the bill for so many people. It’s very frustrating.

    1. It just may not be a good fit for your figure. I found going to petite changed it dramatically on me. The regular didn’t look too long but I just could NOT make it work. I don’t think I ever wore it again after the photo shoot. But the petite, the bunchiness hit in a different place. I also found when visiting the Universal Standard showroom in NYC and when they did a popup in DC that it is worth sizing up or down because it can drastically change the location of the ruching. But finally, it’s just not the right dress for everyone and that is okay!

    2. As much as so many people love Universal Standard, I have decided that a lot of their clothing isn’t meant for my body. I seem to fall right between their XXS and XS and no matter what they say about being made for everybody, I think when you’re thick in the middle like I am, you’re either stuck with a tight waist or enormous volume in the hips. Their tops work pretty well for me, but not much else.

      1. Yeah, it is impossible for a brand to fit everyone correctly. Just like I keep trying and failing with Madewell, it’s all about the shape of the fit models they use!

      2. I have had the exact same experience. I do think many brands, even that offer larger sizes, still cut for one shape. And it’s weird, when so many women carry weight in their middle, that more brands don’t design for this.

      3. I completely agree. It seems that as you size up in US, the fit model is a pear-shaped woman with larger hips, butt, and thighs. Apple shapes are out of luck. I found this especially true in the body suits I just tried — they were cut very generously in the hips and thighs, so that I sized up for waist and bust, the body suit just hung loosely on my lower half. Like you, I’ve come to the conclusion I can only wear the US tops. (I really love the Fiona sweatshirt, one size up — it’s wonderful!)

        1. As someone who is emphatically pear shaped, I think U/S is cut more for people who are proportional. If you look at their sizing, there is nothing that is cut small up top for a more generous hip just as there is nothing that is cut especially large at the waist. They expect (like a lot of companies) that as body sizes get bigger, you expand in all areas which is simply not the same. Pari Passau is the only company I know of that doesn’t do that.

          1. Agreed. I’m a pear and in my experience U/S isn’t cut for me. I was just scanning this dress for the hundredth time because the red is just that pretty, and noted that on Alison the hip fits about right. From experience I know I’m similar in height, bust, and waist but my hips are significantly bigger so I don’t think there will be enough room! I’m sure it’s stretchy but I like things to drape, not hug. So I’m going to pass on the dress…again.

    3. I can’t remember where I saw the picture, but a woman on (maybe?) another blog added a thin belt to the Geneva, and it completely transformed the look and changed how I reacted to it. I’ve always hated the dress, despite Alison’s best efforts to convince me that it’s a Swiss Army Knife Dress, but when I looked at my mystery woman, I felt a small stirring of “BUY ME!” I resisted because I knew intellectually that the Geneva wouldn’t have the same uber-cool look on me, but you might try the magic belt trick before you return it.

  7. >>…a social media ad about a garment that transitions from skirt to dress to top to jumpsuit to cape to backpack to tent.

    LOL! You are hilarious.

    I like the dress and didn’t realize the Geneva was cotton — that changes everything. I will say that the asymmetry seems bunchy — I would prefer a straight-seamed asymmetry, with maybe a side slit for ease of walking.

    Even though I’m tall, I think I’ll try the petite version. Thanks!

  8. I love my black, v-neck Geneva. I’ve worn it for so many things. Much like you a change of shoes and jewelry give it a new vibe. And my Geneva doesn’t judge how many nights we went for ice cream. I’d actually like another in a brighter color to change it up and make it fun.

  9. Just this minute finished a great, funny article in The Guardian about the writer taking a 100-day dress challenge, then visited you! Such lovely, kind words [from both places] on what clothing means to us, especially in these weird times. I bet the Geneva could meet the challenge! Thanks for always being so honest and political and real.

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