Creating Inclusive & Accessible Clothing

Korri Burton-Universe
  • A burlesque suit with undergarments made of old suspenders and garter belts. A custom 1970s-style Catwoman costume. A choir uniform for a transgender teen who could not move in the limited sizes produced by the uniform company.

    These are just some of the unique projects undertaken by Uncommon Closet, a Chicago custom clothing and tailoring business founded, owned and operated by Korri Burton-Universe, Class of 2014.

    In just five short years since it opened, Uncommon Closet has made a name for itself by successfully handling projects that other tailoring shops deemed impossible. And more importantly, Burton-Universe has created a welcoming environment for people with body types and needs that are often overlooked by the fashion industry, including members of the LGBTQIA+ community, the differently abled and plus-sized individuals.

    • For some people it’s just clothing. But for some, especially for trans or queer people, it’s such an expression of who we are. It can express gender. It can express how you present yourself in society, ranging from punk battle jackets to just being able to wear a dress and present feminine and feel that you are a woman. That’s huge.
    — Korri Burton-Universe, Class of 2014
  • Burton-Universe has seen clients cry during fittings because it’s the first time they’ve had a garment that fits them well. Transgender individuals, for instance, may have bigger chests or hips and smaller waists, features that traditional masculine suits don’t fit. And many tailors won’t take on altering suit shoulders — something that Uncommon Closet does on almost a daily basis.

    “I would definitely say theatre and specifically what I learned at Millikin really kind of brought me here. Because in theatre you have to do alterations that you wouldn’t normally see at a tailor shop. We just know a wide range of how things can be done. And it also means we’ve worked with a wider range of bodies and had to be more flexible.”

    Burton-Universe (who uses they/them pronouns) says they credit the performance-based teaching of Millikin Professor of Theatre and Dance Jana Henry Funderburk for helping them understand the fundamentals of pattern drafting and draping. They recall late nights working in the costume shop with Funderburk on projects like the quick-change effect to help Cinderella’s peasant dress transform into a ball gown. A key team member had just quit and there was “no choice” but to burn the midnight oil to ensure everything was ready on time for the show. The team succeeded, and Burton-Universe found the trial-by-fire experience “incredible” and an opportunity to truly feel the “family aspect of being in theatre.”

    Korri Burton-Universe


    Now Burton-Universe has an even larger family, as word spreads within the LGBTQIA+ community about Uncommon Closet’s accessible and inclusive approach to clothing. The business has been recommended by Chicago Queer Exchange and was included as part of “Chicago” magazine’s “Best of Chicago 2019.”

    Burton-Universe has partnered with Sharpe Suiting, a queer-owned company and premier suiting label in Hollywood, to provide custom suits that not only fit but match the wearer’s unique style and identity. And after starting out in half of an artist’s loft with “two sewing machines and just enough space for an iron,” Uncommon Closet recently prepared to double its space for the second time in its existence with an early 2023 move.

    This success is not something Burton-Universe necessarily envisioned when they came to Millikin as a student, a time when they “hated sewing” and thought stage managing or scenic design might be in their future. They tell current Millikin students to “be open and flexible.”

    • You are at Millikin to work toward your dream, but your dream may change. Always keep that eye out for opportunity and what paths may open. Uncommon Closet started as a note in my phone because I was frustrated with the fashion industry for not being able to find clothing for my partner. That’s where it started. And you can find a path wherever you look just by keeping your eye out and seeing what you can do.
    — Korri Burton-Universe, Class of 2014