LINCOLN PARK — Simone Magee said she never would have come up with her idea for a breakthrough women's product if she hadn't moved to the Windy City four years ago.
The Lincoln Park millennial has just developed Dress Downs, a discreet, finger-length garment weight with an adhesive strip designed to be hung just inside the hem of a skirt or dress to keep it from flying up in gusts of wind.
The whole subject aggravates Magee, especially what she calls "that fake Marilyn Monroe moment" from "The Seven Year Itch" in which the Hollywood sex symbol stands on a subway vent to let the rush of air blow her dress up — an image immortalized in a Downtown sculpture a few years ago.
"That still gets me," Magee said Friday over iced coffee in Lincoln Park. "I don't know why she smiles."
In real life, Magee added, when that happens to a woman, "Does she ever smile? It's usually like frowning and screaming. The last thing I'm going to do is have a giant grin and say, 'Oh, it's totally fine.'"
Even so, she acknowledged, it's largely the way of the world for Chicago women, right down to the way she first noticed CTA buses typically create a wind wave when they pull up to a stop.
"When the bus pulls up, there's this gust of wind," Magee said, straight up the skirt. "It kept happening and happening and happening. I said, 'There has to be something for this, right?'"
What she discovered was, no. No one had arrived at a common-sense solution to a persistent problem as old as, well, at least since hemlines rose above the ankles more than 100 years ago.
Curtain weights were too heavy. Other weights designed to be sewn into hems were "impractical."
"Are you going to do that with every dress?" Magee said. "Women don't sew anymore. This has to be easy to use."
The basic idea was percolating in her mind until one day she was crossing the intersection of Chicago Avenue and LaSalle Street in a dress with her hands full.
"And I knew it was going to fly up," she said.
Indeed, a gust blew down Chicago off the lake, revealing all. "I was so embarrassed, so mortified, and I was like, that's it, I'm going to create it. No one else is going to do it."
She quit her job last November to devote herself to the project, babysitting and working as a ride-sharing service driver to make ends meet. Her roommate put her in touch with a manufacturer. She spent the money and filled out the paperwork to apply for a patent. And now Dress Downs are packaged, on the market and ready to help women avoid humiliation at the hands of every awkward breeze.
"Everything I've been building toward the last 10 months is finally happening," Magee said. "I'm excited. I feel like I'm building more traction with every day."
What she ultimately arrived at was a slim silicone-based strip, 3 inches long, just under an inch wide and weighing just under an ounce — enough to resist those bus gusts and gentle zephyrs, while putting an additional drag on a rising skirt to enable a woman to react in time to even the Hawk blowing off the lake.
They're sold in packages of four for $12, and the adhesive allows them to be reused and shifted from dress to dress. Magee said she typically puts two to both sides, which does the trick, because putting them in the front or back can result in them knocking against the knees, thighs or calves.
Magee said, "What Sara Blakely did for women with Spanx, I am hoping to do with Dress Downs."
The product already is attracting attention. It was featured on NBC's "Today" show last month.
Magee said she was giving a Lyft ride recently to a woman who turned out to be a buyer for Nordstrom, who expressed interest. A friend said they proved invaluable on a recent vacation cruise while strolling the decks.
Magee laughed at how she'd never even considered the "cruise ship market," because they seem so sensible for everyday use, especially in the Windy City.
"Chicago summers are so much fun," she said. "You're on rooftops and in backyards and patios, and just the slightest bit of wind," and you find yourself revealing more than you'd ever intended.
Thus, Dress Downs, in which the Florida transplant, who came here on a whim almost immediately upon graduation from Stetson University, tries to make her adopted hometown simply more livable for women.
"Honestly, moving to Chicago is the best decision I've made," Magee said. "I love it. I'm completely a Lincoln Park girl."
She said the only criticism she's gotten so far has been from unapologetic girl-watching guys who've commented on her Facebook page, asking something along the lines of, "What do you think you're doing?"
"OK, guys, calm down," Magee said. "You're the reason girls want this."