Universal Standard Mystery Box 2020 review

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I figured it was worth doing a little roundup and review of the Universal Standard Mystery Box deal for 2020 because it feels like the results have been so mixed. Some people were super bummed, others got some gems.

So… how does it work?

In the 2020 offering, there were 10 boxes. Tops, Bottoms, Dresses, Luxe, Premier, Classic, Athleisure, Petite, Bold and Surprise Me. The Luxe, Premier and Classic boxes were called ‘outfitting’ boxes so in theory you would receive something you could wear as a full outfit.

You were sent a survey asking about colour and pattern preference and if you were allergic to wool or mohair. It was also suggested that Universal Standard looked at your order history and wishlist. I’m not sure how true any of this was, although I did receive some items from my wishlist.

Each of them had an advertised retail value, so for example the Bottoms box cost $85 but had a retail value of $350. It’s worth noting it didn’t say ‘up to $350’, it said ‘valued at $350’. See?

Was it good value?

Before I break down what I got in which box, I will say that because I ordered 3 boxes, I was expecting 9 pieces. Instead I got 12, which on the one hand is generous, but on the other I know that many people only hit their retail value because Universal Standard threw in a fourth item, so instead of three higher-value items, it was four lower-value ones. You get me?

Bottom line: I paid $345 and received a box to the value of $1,521.

Obviously it would be incredible if all of those pieces were bang-on perfection, but from a pure value point of view, I had a very good experience.

I would say that $1,521 broke down to…

$798 worth of banging items (5 items)
$300 worth of average items (4 items)
$423 worth of bad items (3 items)

So on balance, it definitely paid off. In my ‘average items’ section I’ve included basics which didn’t blow me away but which I’ll definitely end up wearing, whereas the bad items are things I’ll almost certainly never wear and will try to swap or sell.

Which boxes did you get?

I initially ordered the Classic and the Surprise Me, but then I had second thoughts and decided to YOLO and pick up the Luxe as well.

So… what was inside each of them?

Well, that’s a bit hard to say. When my box finally turned up, it was literally just one box of clothes with nothing else. It didn’t have any kind of packing slip showing which pieces were from which box, the clothes weren’t divided by box genre etc. But I’ve sort of tried to use my brain and figure out which items could be attributed to each box.

Let’s see how those broke down, but do bear in mind this is just my projection of which piece belonged in which box…

The Luxe box

The Luxe box was $175 and had a retail value of $650 so was the most expensive box available. $175 for a random box of junk is a lot to gamble, but even if you only got one piece you really loved, in many cases the box would pay for itself. These were the pieces I think I got in my Luxe box, based on value, fabric and vibe.

Item 1 – the Kate jumpsuit, retails at $185.

This was one of my wishlist items, something I’ve been wanting for a long time but reluctant to spend $185 on. I was absolutely delighted. I wear jumpsuits a lot and tend to gravitate towards easy, comfy, simple items.

Item 2 – the Cambria dress, retails at $168.

This is one of the items that falls into my ‘bad items’ category. It’s not an objectively vile dress but it’s not my style at all. If I had a more formal job, maybe it would make sense, but I just feel nothing when I look at it. Not a banger.

Item 3 – the Rita sweater dress, retails at $185.

Nah. Not my style, doesn’t suit me, will be happy to get rid of it.

Bonus item – the Estella pants, retailed at $225 before being put on final sale at $69.

I did some sleuthing and I’m pretty sure these were from the Goop collab that US did a couple of years ago because I couldn’t find them on the main website and these look really similar to the pair I received. It’s because it’s from the Goop collab that I assumed this was the bonus item thrown into this box. These are just perfect classic slick black trousers that I know I’ll wear loads. Another banger!

Overall: two solid bangers which more than paid for the box. Two pieces I kind of hate. My main criticism is I’m not sure how this counts as outfitting? Obviously there’s a chance I’ve mis-attributed the items to this box, but given that I only got one pair of bottoms across the three boxes, I can’t figure out how else the items would be distributed.

Although this one contains the two items I like the most, it also contains two items I really don’t like, whereas the other two boxes only have one, maximum.

Alleged retail value: $650
Actual retail value: $607 if you take the final sale price of the trousers, or $763 if you take the original retail price
Retail value of the items I truly loved: $254 based on final sale price of the trousers, or $410 if you take the original retail price.
Did the cost of the box pay off based only on items I truly loved?:
Yes. $175 for $254/$410 of banging items.

The Classic box

The Classic box was $95 and had a retail value of $475. If my assumption is right about which pieces belong in this box, then it forms a pretty coherent outfit and included a bonus item.

Item 1 – the Tirsa trench, retails at $188.

Another item from my wishlist! Really happy about this. I have a classic trench in beige and often wish I had one in a darker colour, too. This is actually the only piece I’ve tried on (for complicated logistical reasons I’m trying to avoid opening things so they’re easier to transport, although am sure I’ll cave) and it fits absolutely perfectly. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.

Item 2 – Olivia dungarees, retails at $120.

The third item from my wishlist! I adore dungarees and having tried a pair of Universal Standard’s jeans, am very hyped to have another of their denim pieces. Really happy to have got these.

Item 3 – Foundation short-sleeve crew-neck bodysuit, retails at $60.

This is going to be a super cute piece to layer under the dungarees. The only downside is that I already have a white Foundation short-sleeve crew-neck t-shirt, so I would rather have had it in any other colour. I remember saying on my survey that I like red/pink, but received nothing in red or pink, and given that this bodysuit comes in a vivid red which is presumably less popular than the neutrals, I was surprised to receive it in white. Oh well, a minor gripe rather than a huge fail. I classed this as one of my ‘average’ items, which is probably a little unfair but obviously it’s a lot less exciting than a jumpsuit or a cool trench. I’ll definitely get wear out if it.

Bonus item – long-sleeve v-neck Geneva dress, retails at $120.

Given that the trench, the bodysuit and the dungarees would make an outfit, I’m assuming the bonus item was the Geneva dress. The Geneva is an asymmetric jersey dress and is kind of the quintessential Universal Standard item. I really wanted a Geneva, but… not the long-sleeve v-neck variant. I would have been happy with the short-sleeve crew-neck variant in any colour and any fabric, but them’s the breaks. I think I’ll probably wear this, and might surprise myself by enjoying it more than I think I will. Firmly in the ‘average’ category.

Overall: love the outfit, could have lived without the bonus item, but it’s not the worst.

Alleged retail value: $475
Actual retail value: $498, so without the Geneva it would have been well under.
Retail value of the items I truly loved: $308
Did the cost of the box pay off based only on items I truly loved?:
Yes. $95 for $308 of banging items.

The Surprise Me box

The Surprise Me box was $75 and had a retail value of $300. On the one hand, here’s where the wheels come off a bit. On the other hand, it’s still got a couple of good staples in it that I don’t completely hate. The Surprise Me box was a wildcard, no indication of what you’d get and no suggestion that it would form an outfit. I’m a naturally curious beast so I had to go for it, but if I had my time again, I would just skip this box. I thought they’d throw in some weird, cool stuff but it all just felt a bit bleh. I mean… two black t-shirts and a black t-shirt dress? Really?

Item 1 – the Maia stovepipe sleeve tee in black, retails at $50.

It’s a black t-shirt. I’ll probably wear it. Universal Standard make delightful jersey tees, so why not.

Item 2 – the Long-sleeve V Rex, retails at $60.

I have several of Universal Standard’s wonderful t-shirts, but, much like the Geneva situation, I would have preferred a round neck and a short sleeve. I’ll still get loads of wear out of it.

Item 3 – the Aster shirt, retails at $80.

When I originally wrote this post, I had written off this item as a ‘bad item’ and the Rita dress as an ‘average item’ but having tried both on, I want to retract that and catapult this shirt all the way up to my top tier. I just wasn’t feeling it based on the photo, but I tried it on (originally I was just going to sell it without even opening) and absolutely fell in love. It feels really sharp and chic and is going to make a banging all-black outfit with the Estella pants and Tirsa trench.

Bonus item – the Tesino jersey dress, retails at $70.

I’m 5ft 9. Even if I wanted a plain black t-shirt dress, I want it to cover my knickers. Another fail.

Overall: Initially, I wrote this off as ‘the worst box’ but with the discovery that the Aster looks great on me, plus two easy black t-shirts, it’s really only the Tesino dress that’s a fail. It’s kind of unfortunate because this felt like the perfect way for Universal Standard to get rid of loads of niche stock. Instead it was a lot of quite basic basics.

Alleged retail value: $300
Actual retail value: $260, assuming I attributed the right items to this box.
Retail value of the items I truly loved: I only really loved the Aster shirt, but that was $80, plus $110 of plain black t-shirts which I’ll wear a lot.
Did the cost of the box pay off based only on items I truly loved?:
Yes, my change of heart regarding the Aster shirt which was $80 means this box paid for itself.

Was it a good spread of items?

I broke it down by category to see what the spread was like.

1 x Outerwear

4 x Dresses

4 x Tops

2 x All-in-ones

1 x Bottoms

I was really surprised to get zero jeans. I guess maybe they thought the dungarees counted because they’re denim, but honestly I would rather have had some jeans instead of another dress. I also think you can’t really claim to be selling an ‘outfit’ and not give any outerwear, so I would have liked another jacket or coat.

There was wayyyy too much black. It’s not the worst colour to go heavy on, but it felt like there could be more navy or grey mixed in there if they wanted to do a lot of neutrals.

In terms of spread, I would say not enough bottoms and not enough colour.

Let’s do the math… is it good value?

You know what? Yeah. I think it is.

I paid $345 (£280) before shipping costs. That works out as…

£23.33 per item for the 12 items I received
£31.11 per item if I had only received the original 9 I was expecting
£56 per item for the 5 items I particularly loved, 3 of which were on my wishlist (plus the Estella pants and Aster shirt which weren’t, but have been surprise star pieces)

Given that the 3 items from my wishlist averaged at £165, paying, essentially, £70 for each of them is a really sweet deal.

Plus, it was nice to receive the Estella pants and Aster shirt which are things I wouldn’t have chosen myself but will get a lot of wear.

But obviously there is no guarantee you’ll love a single item, so it’s a big gamble.

In conclusion?

First and foremost, I think US made a mistake in the bold claims about the retail value of the boxes. That led to customer expectations that they were never going to reach.

Secondly, I think they should have at least put in a packing slip which detailed which items go with which box, because otherwise it’s just up to the customer to guess. This is particularly important in the ‘outfitting’ boxes, and again, I don’t really feel like my Luxe could be called an ‘outfit’ even though I wasn’t super unhappy with it. In some cases, that could lead to the perceived value of the box being lower than the ‘actual’ value.

Overall, I don’t regret rolling the dice. I could easily have done without the Surprise Me box although it did contain one banging piece I wouldn’t have chosen myself.

Thinking about it after writing this post out, my main criticism is actually how much black I was sent. Eight pieces out of 12, with one box being entirely black just seems very weird to me if they’re trying to a) build balanced boxes b) listen to customer’s surveys and c) shift less popular stock, since I assume black is the best-selling colour in most styles.

Would I recommend it?

I think if your style vibes with Universal Standard, then yes, 100%. It’s especially fun if you would enjoy the process of having clothes chosen for you which might surprise you (don’t do what I did and write something off without even opening it!). If you’re extremely fussy about colour, or never wear dresses, then maybe don’t take the risk, but if you’re free and easy and want a relatively cost-effective way to try out a pretty expensive brand, then you could do a lot worse.

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