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Universal Standard is one of my favorite apparel brands. Offering their entire selection in sizes 00-40, Universal Standard is one of the few apparel retailers that is truly size-inclusive. Their clothing is in general, excellent quality and classic enough of design to provide me with years of stylish wear. I have been wearing Universal Standard since 2017, but one thing that frustrates me about the brand is that it is web-based. That is until I was able to attend a Universal Standard Trunk Show.
What is a Universal Standard Trunk Show?
Making their way across the United States, starting in the cities that have the largest concentration of existing customers, Universal Standard is having a series of trunk shows to let folks not only try on the clothing in person, but get styling tips from US staff and even experience up-and-coming pieces before they are available to the public. Requiring appointments to keep it a manageable size, Universal Standard has enough apparel with them at these trunk shows where you can try almost everything from the brand in whatever size you wear.
For many folks, this is a revolutionary experience. Even though 67% of the female population in the U.S. wears plus sizes, such size range is rarely ever available in a brick-and-mortar store. And even if the size is available, it is rarely high-quality apparel and is rarely paired with caring and knowledgeable staff (and free water or bubbly) in an elevated environment.
My Experience at a Universal Standard Trunk Show
This past weekend, the Universal Standard Trunk Show came to the Washington DC area, and I immediately made an appointment. I was notified by email as I am a previous US customer. Only those who have shopped Universal Standard before received invites, but you are allowed to bring friends. I did share the invite in my Wardrobe Oxygen Community on Facebook as 24 hours after the email arrived I got a second one and there were still many appointment slots still open.
Folks from the Wardrobe Oxygen Community who had experienced the Universal Standard Trunk Show previously when the tour came through their part of the country said it was a great experience. I wanted to see for myself.
Even though I own a LOT of Universal Standard (and full disclosure, occasionally receive free apparel to promote sales and new launches), there were many pieces I wanted to try out and see how they worked on my frame. I also wanted to experience fabric and quality to determine if any pieces would be a good idea for a future capsule wardrobe.
When I made the appointment I was able to choose whether to attend solo, or bring up to three friends. I invited my sister, a fellow Universal Standard customer, to join me for the trunk show. We arrived at our scheduled appointment time to an Airbnb in a cute neighborhood just two blocks from downtown Clarendon, Virginia. We were warmly welcomed and invited to sit in the dining room of the house. The dining table had been pushed to the side and the room circled with seating. We were two of six individuals there for our scheduled time.
Once we had all arrived, Universal Standard staff greeted us and invited us to share our name and if we were familiar with the brand, what size/s we wore and if new to the brand, what sizes we usually wore in other retailers. We were also asked what type of clothing (pants, jeans, dresses, workwear, loungewear, etc.) we were looking for.
Then we chatted amongst ourselves as the four employees from Universal Standard collected items and set up our fitting rooms. I recognized one of the employees as a person who has modeled apparel on the US site for a couple of years; another I first met in 2017 when Universal Standard had a pop-up shop in DC. All four were very warm and friendly. Once the fitting rooms were ready, we were invited to follow them to the living room.
The living room was set up with six portable fitting rooms that looked very similar to this one I found on Amazon. Next to each fitting room was a rolling rack where you could put items you already tried, and where staff hung additional items you may like. Outside the fitting rooms were two very large mirrors and a long padded bench/sofa. You had to leave the fitting room to see yourself in the clothing; staff was there to offer feedback and grab a different size.
Universal Standard staff was helpful in suggesting how to tie or adjust garments to get the best effect. As we came out of our fitting rooms we often encountered another customer in the same piece and we'd remark on how it looked on one another. Everyone in attendance was very friendly, warm, and supportive.
Each appointment was an hour in length which felt sufficient. I tried four dresses, three pairs of pants, three tops, and three jackets during that time while also chatting with my sister and staff, admiring items on the other customers, and having sips of my drink (they offered bubbly and water to all who attended). I never felt rushed and wasn't even told the session was over, it just slowly wrapped up.
Some individuals have been able to leave a Universal Standard Trunk Show with their purchases; most have placed an order to have their purchase shipped to their home. Orders were placed through an iPad and a card scanner; orders were associated with the email address you have for your Universal Standard account (if you have made previous purchases). Universal Standard Trunk Show orders can be exchanged and returned like any web-based purchase.
Should You Attend a Universal Standard Trunk Show?
I think your experience at a Universal Standard Trunk Show will vary depending on your relationship with the brand, your comfort level trying on clothes in a group setting, and your expectations. Some folks I've talked to had an incredible experience where they found a lot of clothing they loved. They didn't feel pressured to buy and learned a lot. Others had a less positive experience, frustrated by the current Universal Standard collection and feeling guilty for not shopping.
I had a great experience, but I am in an unusual situation being an influencer who has shopped and worked with Universal Standard for five years. Many of the pieces the US employee brought me I had not only tried but owned in my closet. I know which pieces are new and which are legacy, I know which styles have been updated over the years, and call garments by their style name instead of design.
I know the folks who were at the trunk show the same time as me who had never before shopped at Universal Standard left very happy and made purchases of multiple garments. I do not know if the other customers who were familiar with the brand ended up buying anything. I didn't see any sales pressure; I myself bought one item.
If you are already frustrated with Universal Standard due to fit, colors, or design you will not have a good experience at a Universal Standard Trunk Show. Even though these trunk shows may have upcoming pieces available to try, the majority of what is available to try on is what is currently on the site. There is nothing incredibly revolutionary that will be pulled out of a back room to change your opinion on the current collection by Universal Standard.
Also, a Universal Standard Trunk Show is not the time to air grievances. I did mention I wish to see more petites and bold colors, but it fit into the conversation. You are not being styled by the CEO, this is not the audience for hopping on a soapbox, but your suggestions may help improve future collections as well as future trunk shows.
If you have been hesitant to try Universal Standard or order items with new-to-you fabrics or silhouettes, this will be a great experience. No need to stress about returns, you can try that dress, those pants, and every style of denim. You can see that color in person and decide if it's something you'd enjoy. You'll be able to swap out sizes, see what other garments coordinate with it, and possibly see it on other bodies.
If you are a big fan of the brand, you should attend. It's fun to chat with the staff, hear about what is coming down the pike, get styling tips from those who know the brand best, and meet fellow folks in your area who love the brand or desire a more intimate and size-inclusive shopping experience.
What To Bring to a Universal Standard Trunk Show
I recommend wearing a skin-colored t-shirt bra and seamless underwear so they disappear underneath light colors and fitted garments. If you usually wear a certain underpinning under dresses or other garments, bring it with you.
If you are looking for a specific garment for a specific situation, bring the shoes you would likely wear. If work clothes, bring your favorite shoes for work dresses or pants; if a wedding bring your dressy shoes. If you know you often like to style garments with belts or other accessories, bring them as well. Universal Standard did not offer belts, shoes, or other styling items at their trunk show.
The current fitting rooms for a Universal Standard trunk show have curtains that don't like to stay completely closed. A member of the Wardrobe Oxygen Community suggested bringing a hair claw clip to clamp the curtain closed; I brought one and it was perfect to offer modesty and not worry about bumping it open when I bend over to pull up a pair of pants or take off my shoes.
Consider wearing separates. If you have a bottom and a base layer/shell in the outfit you wear, you will have something to wear under jackets or cardigans or with tops while you try on different things.
I recommend taking the time to do your hair and face as you would for work or a special occasion. Just like when going to the hair salon, it's a lot easier to focus on the clothes and not on what you find to be your faults when you look how you find to be your best. If applicable, consider a comb or lipstick to refresh your look after a few try-ons.
And be sure to bring an open mind. Allow the staff to bring you something you would not usually consider. Don't see it as upselling, see it as a chance to try something new with no strings attached. Use this opportunity to branch out with color, silhouettes, and even size.
What Did I Learn at the Universal Standard Trunk Show
I am writing this post because Universal Trunk Shows aren't going anywhere. Universal Standard loves the ability to visit different cities and connect with more customers than if they had a couple of brick-and-mortar stores. If Universal Standard hasn't yet visited your city stay tuned!
I was asked what feedback I had to improve future trunk shows; I said I'd love to see larger fitting rooms. They said that's on the list already; they got the largest they could find premade but are considering having custom mobile fitting rooms created for the future.
The New York showroom will be opening this spring. Before the pandemic, Universal Standard was opening stores across the country. During the pandemic, they all closed. They plan to keep all but the NYC showroom closed and instead continue trunk shows.
Earlier this year, Universal Standard launched The Studio, a small inventory of limited-edition pieces. If those pieces sell out and get good feedback, they may return. I purchased a suiting vest and matching pants during one of these Studio launches and I am excited to hear these pieces will be coming back for others to purchase!
So, What Did I Get at the Universal Standard Trunk Show?
I recently made a purchase at Universal Standard so a lot of the things I liked I already owned.
- As I mentioned, I considered getting the Cigarette Pants but held off since I already own a lot of black pants (including the Audrey Tailored Ponte Pant in XS, which I love).
- I tried the Carefree Stretch Twill Shirtdress in black in XS and was surprised by how much I liked it. The weight is great, the snaps between the buttons is genius, but the black wasn't my jam. I wish they had the ivory in stock; I am thinking if it's still in my head by spring I may order it in ivory.
- I ended up getting the Kelsey Denim Jacket in Light Blue, size XS. Years ago, I got the Selvedge version and it just didn't look right on me but seeing the jackets in other washes in person intrigued me. I first tried it on in size S and it was… fine. Then I tried the Dark Indigo in XS and I loved it but didn't think the wash would work well with my existing closet. They grabbed me an XS in Light Blue and it was a winner! I can't wait until it arrives!
Have you attended a Universal Standard Trunk Show? Share your experience in the comments!
I went to the San Francisco trunk show. Bought the cigarette pants in charcoal though I’m still not sure about the color and didn’t want black pants. Also got a lesson on how to do a partial tuck with one of the tees that didn’t look sloppy! Had the same problem with the keyhole blouse and would consider one of the striped blouses if they go on sale.
Alfreda Miguel says
I attended a trunk show last fall in Nashville, TN. I enjoyed the experience very much. I really appreciated the input regarding fit and color combinations. All aspects if the event made me feel special. They also gifted me a cardigan that I wear at work everyday! My money is tight so I don’t get to purchase from US often. I have, however, been a customer since 2016. I do most of my purchasing during the holidays when they have amazing sales.
Bonnie Grove says
Love this idea! Do they have a schedule of what cities they’re visiting? Hoping Phoenix or Scottsdale is on the list!!! 🙂
I made it to this and loved the atmosphere and experience. It was nice to have someone help you try on several pieces and get a sense of the line. Also enjoyed seeing what worked on others. New fan of US dresses. I find retail shopping a bit of a chore and online shopping is a bit disconnected. This was nice.
Thank you, as always, for the great and helpful review. I am soooo bummed that I missed this, after initially RSVP’ing yes. They sent a very friendly reminder, asking if I was a definitive yes. Worried about whether I might need to take my teen somewhere, I backed out. Again … their response couldn’t have been nicer. These interactions made me a bigger fan than I already am. Looks like you had a great time and you look amazing in the clothes 🙂
I ended up with one of the Carefree Stretch Twill Shirt dresses in black (black is definitely my jam and I would also consider it in the lighter version I loved it so much). Since it was out of stock in my size I was able to purchase the one I tried on. I also picked up a sweater.
I didn’t feel pressure to buy and appreciated the conversation around colors and what could work well with my existing wardrobe. I was most stressed by the thought of being there with strangers (introvert here too) and not knowing what the changing room would be like. I almost decided not to go but really wanted to get my hands on some specific things and try on multiple sizes. I didn’t feel pressure to talk too much and am really happy I went. I was able to try on 5 dresses, 3 pants, 3 sweaters, and 3 jackets. Would definitely do this again!
Do you wear it with a belt? I would like to see if that way. Too bad they didn’t show a model with a belt. What do you think?
Oh, whattt?? This is so cool! Looks like you had fun 🙂
Krissi of the marquise diamond
I bought the Kelsey blue jean jacket in light blue this fall but have yet to wear it! I looked at it this morning and thought, I need to wear that!
Is the Brulee more brown or purple? I can’t tell; photos conflict!
I like US though they seem to be cut for someone less hippy and with slimmer arms than me. It’s almost always hit or miss.
Alison Gary says
If I didn’t know the name, I would call it dark plum.
Nancy Smith says
Thank you so much for your review. I found U.S. during the pandemic and have a few TRex shirts, which I love. But I would definitely, buy more items if they offered more petite tops & dresses. I live in Northern California and would attend a trunk show if one is in my area.
I very much enjoy your content, especially the reviews and Saturday reads. Thank you for what you do!
I attended a trunk show in Chicago late last year I have been wearing US since about 2017 as well. The US staff really listened and were helpful on styles and fit; they helped me not go too large on everything, something I am prone to do. They had a good eye for what looks good close and for alternatives when the fit was not right. The experience was fun (I went with a friend), very low pressure, and will actually help with brand knowledge when ordering online. I came away with 2 sweaters, a dress, pants (so helpful one sizing here), and the short trench of my dreams. Would definitely go again!
I meant so helpful ON sizing!
I rec’d an invitation to that trunk show and toyed with going. My introverted self said no, just order. So, in the spirit of a fresh start and open mind, I ordered 6 pairs of jeans, all different styles. Just boxed all 6 up to return. My honest opinion of US clothing is, it’s designed for pear-shaped women. If, like me, you’re an apple with a large waist and small hips/butt/thighs, it just doesn’t work well. Then again, nothing does!!
BTW, I see US is now charging for returns. Makes sense.
Bette, I feel your pain. In general, apples are underserved in the fashion market, and if you’re an apple like I am with a smaller bustline, it’s even worse. I feel like I sit between an XXS and and XS with them–need the XS for my waist, but the hip area is often too large. Like the Stephanie pants look either a bit too small or quite a bit loose. I know Alison loves the Audrey pants, but I looked awful in them–too-tight of a waist but ballooning farther down my body!
That having been said . . . I have had luck with the classic Seine jean, where I have both 10 and 12 depending on how large I am, and I like their t-shirts and sweaters, too. It may be the pants that I just will never be happy with with. I am trying hard to shrink my tummy back down to where an XS fits me better everywhere, but I am likely to drop weight everywhere else first. In the meantime, lots of separates with elastic waists for me.
Oops–I am now between an XS and an S with Universal Standard. Trying to get back squarely into an XS.
Rebecca, thanks for the nice reply. I think I am spoiled for comfort by wearing nothing but foldover waist yoga pants — um, flared leggings — for the past 3 years. Yoga pants offer the perfect combination of forgiving waist and slim hips/butt/thighs. It’s hard-to-impossible to consider zipping myself back into tight jeans. So, unless a space age denim comes along, I guess I won’t be wearing jeans. Oh, well.
That’s so interesting because I’m a pear and have returned everything I’ve tried from US because everything pulls across my hips and bunches up! Like many brands, I’d guess they are best for a taller, balanced figure.
Ann DD says
I hope they come back to Chicago soon (and include Milwaukee people again)! I thought it was a great way to give things a try, and it was fun to meet some of the people involved with the brand.
I have a physical disability, and the dressing room/mirror situation wasn’t ideal – the other people there at the same time as me 100% HOGGED the one mirror. Honestly, I’m used to being ignored in that way, and I didn’t hold it against US. I would definitely make time to attend another trunk show!
Alison Gary says
You make a great point about the mirrors. I had times when I struggled to see myself, and I would have loved a three-way as well, possibly set apart from the rest so I could check out my back view, and possibly not feel guilty spending too much time in front of the mirror. I hate that you were ignored, that’s extremely frustrating. It makes me think that along with more mirrors they should have some sort of more private changing area for those who may have special needs/sensory issues and definitely need the larger fitting rooms not just for comfort but for accessibility. Thank you for sharing your experience!
Ann DD says
A three-way mirror is a great idea, as are differently-configured changing areas! I had noted in my questionnaire that I have a physical disability, so they did provide a chair. I’m not sure if that was standard in all of the “rooms”? My changing area wasn’t fully-encosed, and I have pretty much zero shame, so it didn’t bother me, but I could see it being problemtic for some. It sounds like they’re learning along the way and will hopefully make improvements!
I have not been to a trunk show – I hope they will come to DFW!
Did the pull-on cigarette pants fit similarly to the button-waist ones? I love the button-waist and have several pairs. I have been debating buying some pull-on ones so they’re smooth under certain tops.
Alison Gary says
They are sort of similar but not exact. I feel they are a bit looser in the waist and the inch or so below it. I almost feel I can size down in the pull-on style but fear it will affect the leg fit.
Wait! You didn’t buy that gorgeous wrap dress? You were in bomb shell mode in that dress, Alison!
I completely agree with Giuditta! You looked stunning in that dress!
I was rooting for the Cleo blouse. Extremely flattering on you, Alison.
Alison Gary says
It’s a lovely blouse, but the keyhole was a bit too low on me and showed my bra. If it came in petite or I was even an inch taller I think it would have been a great fit!
Alison Gary says
It was a fantastic dress, but a bit too plunging (I would have to pin it just so to not have it hang weird and also cover my bra). Again a time when I wish they carried more petites!
I wish I had gone. I also wish that I had known it was at an AirBnB and not some random person’s house, which is where in my head I imagined it was from the description. Maybe I read the invitation wrong! But that is what turned me off from going! So glad you had a good experience – I will go if they come to the DMV again!
Alison Gary says
I hope they do return. I know many who weren’t available this weekend. I know it would be lucrative/successful for US to come back to DC (maybe on the M side of the DMV this time!).