Clothes May Not Change the World

But the Women Who Wear Them Will

Words by Jessica Hagemann Photos by Ashley Haguewood

“The first time I walked into Dress for Success Austin,” says Blanca, a former client, “I was completely overwhelmed—in that I was not expecting such sincere, genuine, empathic treatment.”

Blanca, a single mom who in 2015 was down on her luck, admits she was “not used to asking for help.” At Dress for Success, an international organization empowering low-income women, female veterans, and veterans’ wives through economic independence, she felt “supported, encouraged, even loved unconditionally.” Plus, she left that day with a killer outfit she never could have afforded otherwise.

Although Dress for Success is “more than just a suit,” as many of its clients attest, a significant part of the client experience is the opportunity to be outfitted by a personal style consultant. Dress for Success Austin collects gently used professional attire from pant and skirt suits to blouses, handbags, and jewelry, and pairs each woman who visits the boutique with a sharp, well-fitting power outfit that makes her feel proud and capable.

Next door, in the Career Center, the women work one-on-one with volunteers who go over their resumes and cover letters and help them search for available jobs. If a woman needs to finish her GED first, she can find those resources, too. An optional 12-week professional development program further refines clients’ interview skills and elevator pitches by honing in on their employable strengths. Eighty-seven percent of the women who complete this program land a job within 90 days.

A job retention program teaches newly-employed women to excel in the workplace while maintaining a healthy work-life balance. The complementary financial literacy class covers budgets and wise spending. There’s even a class on business plan writing for the more entrepreneurial-minded.

“All of this is made possible,” insists Judy Chambers, Dress for Success Austin’s director since 2006, “thanks to our huge crew of volunteers.” In addition to Judy, the affiliate also employs three part-time staff and one contract staff member, who, in turn, oversees more than 400 volunteers.

Dress for Success Austin volunteers serve in a wide variety of ways, including career coaches and personal style consultants. Salon experts teach makeup application. Breast cancer survivors collect and donate bras. A feature unique to the Austin chapter is that every client receives a new bra. The American Charity League sorts clothing donations. Many volunteers have served for five years or more—a testament to the organization’s mission and impact.

That’s what Blanca remembers most about her experience as a Dress for Success Austin client: “the amazing group of individuals who really keep this organization going.” She was so grateful for their service that a few months ago, she came back to the affiliate as its newest executive assistant, eager to pay that kindness forward.

Betty, another former client and current volunteer, echoes the sentiment. “Dress for Success Austin brought my shoulders back and my confidence up,” she says, making all the difference in the world for her in 2009. To thank the organization and spread a message of support, she founded a community action project called In Her Shoes, which collects shoe donations for Dress for Success and other area nonprofits.

Annually, the Austin chapter of Dress for Success serves 1,000 women from seven Texas counties. They’re one of the few nonprofits with no ‘end of service’ date, meaning any woman is eligible for help anytime she needs it, as many times as she needs it. Clients are referred for services from 109 nonprofit and government agencies.


Get Involved: Because Dress for Success Austin receives no government assistance, the nonprofit relies on foundations, third-party events, and companies like The Container Store, Wal-Mart, and Dell to fund its $400,000 budget. On Saturday, September 9, the Little Black Dress Soirée is your next chance to attend their fundraiser. DFS also welcomes new volunteers or donations of professional clothing, bras, and makeup.


Contact:
(512) 389-3723 701
Tillery Street, Suite A-5
austin.dressforsuccess.org

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