When columnist Nicole Brodeur checked out the new Universal Standard clothing store in Belltown, she saw a physical sign of the #MeToo movement in the egalitarian nature of the place, which has clothes for everyone from size 6 to 32.
The idea behind Universal Standard clothing is equality: Women of all sizes and shapes can shop from the same rack of simple, quality clothing, and in the process, have an equal shot at fashion — and feeling good and strong.
But when I clomped up the stairs to the line’s brand-new Belltown showroom the other day, my first thought was: #MeToo.
These aren’t just dresses and jeans anymore; they’re statement pieces that make several things clear: Time’s Up. This is me. And get used to it.
The #MeToo movement has taken on many forms in the seven months since Harvey Weinstein was exposed to be a monster in movie-mogul clothing.
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Professionally, women are speaking up about what is acceptable workplace behavior — and what is not. They are exposing longstanding, corrosive corporate cultures at places like Microsoft, and demanding change.
Emotionally, they are overcoming fears and speaking out about sexual assault, harassment and discrimination, shedding shame that they never deserved.
With the opening of Universal Standard’s new showroom (it is the second in the area; the first opened in Redmond) I saw a physical sign of the #MeToo movement in the egalitarian nature of the place, the way the clothes are made for everyone from size 6 to 32 and eventually from size 0 to 40.
Body positivity — empowerment — is sewn into every piece.
“There are so many women who have been unable to participate in fashion — and I mean fashion with a capital ‘F,’ ” said co-founder and CEO Polina Veksler, seated on a bench in the sunny showroom the other day.
The average American woman wears a size 16, which means that 100 million women “have been deprived of great quality for so long,” Veksler said.
“We want women to love themselves today, and not some kind of future self,” she continued. “For so long, women have been telling themselves that now is not good enough, and ‘Someday, I’ll be better.’
“Who wants to live like that?”
No one I know — and even more so now, as generations of women are pushing back against everything from toxic workplace cultures and relationships to where they shop and — as with Universal Standard — what they wear.
It’s not just about putting on a dress, though. It impacts their very livelihoods.
At a recent panel discussion in New York, Veksler learned about a 2011 study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology that showed that women are penalized for being overweight. For every 25 pounds she is over the average weight, a woman is paid an average $13,000 less annually.
The brand was inspired by the struggle of co-founder Alexandra Waldman, a former fashion writer “who was always watching fashion,” Veksler said, “and never able to participate.”
Waldman once turned down an invitation to attend an event with Veksler, saying she didn’t have anything to wear — even though they both worked just blocks from some of New York’s most iconic clothing stores.
“Let me show you my world,” Waldman told Veksler, and the two passed through perfumed floors of designer clothing at one store and headed down to the basement level, where Waldman slogged through the racks of plus-sized clothing, set up just feet from the pots and pans of the housewares department. Floral prints. Fringe. Awful.
“It was not just that you had less options,” Veksler remembered. “But those you had were so limited by style.”
The styles at Universal Standard are austere and monochromatic. Tank tops and dresses, jeans and wool jackets. These are clothes that everyone needs.
And that’s part of the idea; to have a place where a size 2 can shop beside a size 18, “so all women can have the same experience,” Veksler said.
“We wanted to do something that was inclusive,” she continued, “for Alex and I to be able to buy from the same rack and buy only by taste. Not by size.”
The clothes start at $30 for a tank top and go up to $350 for a wool coat.
“Women were reluctant to invest in themselves,” Veksler said, “and constantly listening to that bully in their heads. We wanted to remove that bully in everyone’s head.”
Veksler, 36, worked at Microsoft for 12 years, then in investment banking and private equity before launching the line online in September 2015. After a story posted on Refinery29.com, the line sold out in six days.
In the past several years — and these last several months, especially — the body positivity and #MeToo movements have allowed women to feel more confident, and demand what they’re worth.
Here, they’re able to dress the part.
Universal Standard has a “Fit Liberty” program that urges them to “buy for the woman in the mirror,” Veksler said.
If they go up or down a size, the company will replace that item in that new size, for free. The clothes are donated to the nonprofits Dress for Success and First Steps, which help women re-enter the work force, and reduces the amount of clothing in landfills. Clothing is second only to oil as the world’s biggest polluter.
But there was something more to try on: physical freedom and empowerment.
“For us, it’s about showing that great clothes are for everyone and should be made with all women in mind,” Veksler said. “Not just graded up from small sizes.
“Having the chance to dress the way you want is important,” she continued. “Clothing is the armor we wear into the world. It is how we present ourselves before we say a word.”
In these days of speaking out and making change, the only weight that should matter is that of our words.