By Samantha Simon
Updated: Nov 16, 2017 @ 1:16 pm
Heather Hazzan

For Danielle Brooks, fashion is all about having fun. But finding her dream outfits hasn’t always been easy. “I've definitely had struggles when it comes to finding clothes,” Brooks recently told InStyle. So when size-10-and-up brand Universal Standard approached the Orange Is the New Black star to design a collection based on her own style dreams, she didn’t even hesitate. “I’m always talking about fashion, so this was a logical next step,” she said of designing her first-ever line, available now. “Instead of always asking designers, ‘When will you make quality clothes [in my size]?’ it felt like it was only right to say, ‘Well, then I’ll do it.' It made sense to be a part of the change that I wanted to see.”

For Brooks, that started with tackling the stigma that curvier women face when it comes to fashion—starting with the shopping process. “I remember being in a store by myself one time, and I was looking at a piece of clothing,” she said. “Suddenly, a woman who I didn't know came up to me and said, ‘You know you can't fit into that.’ I couldn't believe it. The real problem, though, is that plus-size women are so used to being isolated into a certain section of a store, and those are the only sections of clothes that you can wear. But that's unfair.”

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The experience stayed with Brooks, and it’s part of the reason she took matters into her own hands. “The reason this woman said that to me was because she had never seen somebody who was a 14/16 rocking whatever item I had picked up,” she said. “And that’s because people aren't designing that for us. I want to continue designing clothes so that will never happen again, and anytime you go into a store, there will be an item that you can put on without anybody ever being able to say, ‘You can't wear that.’”

When she first sat down to discuss her vision for the collaboration with the Universal Standard team, Brooks had to answer a simple two-part question. “They said, ‘What are clothes that you feel like you don't have in your closet, and are there clothes you have had but haven't been able to find ever again?’” said Brooks. “From there, we came up with three looks that you can really dress up or really dress down.”

The first piece is an off-the-shoulder sweater dress (pictured at top), which comes in both aubergine and black ($190, universalstandard.com). It's a style that Brooks had been longing to add to her own wardrobe for some time. “I always wanted an off-the-shoulder dress that also works as a hoodie, actually,” she said of the convertible outfit. “Plus, this dress is so comfortable. You can wear it around the house for a night when you're just feeling yourself and want to watch Scandal and drink your Olivia Pope wine. But I would also go out on a date, rocking it off-the-shoulder with a high boot and a nice headscarf.”

Heather Hazzan

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Brooks kept things casual for her second style in the collection, a pair of black overalls. And she made sure that the $120 look met some key criteria. “It's always been important for me to find a really good pair of overalls that aren’t way too long in the leg area and also aren't too masculine,” said Brooks. “I like that that the back of these overalls are very feminine and keep a curvy figure, because they’re not boxy like most overalls are. You could wear them with a collared white shirt—Universal Standard has one that I like called the Elbe Shirt. It's also fun to do something sheer underneath if you're trying to go sexy with it.”

The final piece in the collection is a shirt dress, which retails for $110 and is available in black, rose, and teal. “You can wear it either as a shirt or a dress, which I think is really fun,” said Brooks. “I would wear it with a nice pair of black stockings underneath, but you can even wear a pencil skirt with it. That look is kind of limitless, so I hope women really like it.” She got the idea from one of her red-carpet muses (and ours). “The dress was inspired by an outfit that I saw Solange wear,” she said. “I really love her style and I was like, 'Perfect! I get to recreate this.'”

Heather Hazzan

RELATED: 4 Plus-Size Style Lessons to Learn from Danielle Brooks

Brooks is allowing women to channel their inner Solange at any size, thanks to one of Universal Standard’s core tenets. “Our bodies are always fluctuating, and Universal Standard has a really cool policy where they allow you to return an item and exchange it for a different size without charge,” she said. “So, for instance, say you buy something in a large—and six months later, you outgrow that large and you're wearing an extra-large because it's winter time and you gave in to the potatoes and the steak. You can exchange that item for an extra-large without charge.”

For Brooks, it’s about more than simply being able to get a new garment for free. “I think that really helps women's perspectives of themselves to say, ‘Okay, I can accept myself at any size. I don't have to keep that item in my closet and stress myself out about not being able to wear it. I can go up or down, and that's okay,’” she said. “I, too, am always fluctuating between a 14 and a 16—and I don't want to feel bad about that. Nobody should fell bad about that. So I really stand by that policy.”

Brooks, of course, regularly sports the looks from her collection, and she’s confident that her outspoken Orange Is the New Black character Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson would approve of the designs too. “Oh, yes—she would definitely wear these pieces to a job interview once she's out of prison,” said Brooks. “I think the first thing she would throw on are those overalls. Actually ... maybe not. It might be too close to her prison jumpsuit!”

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