Sunday, January 21, 2007

Dress for Success

Dress for Success Professional Women's Group Members.
by Kate Ballen

Do clothes make the woman?  Or does the woman make the clothes? “We all know as women that if we feel good on the outside, we’ll feel better on the inside,” says Joi Gordon, the very personable CEO of Dress for Success. Since 1997 this worldwide organization has ‘suited’ over 250,000 low-income women. (Dress for Success’s mission also includes interviewing and job retention skills.) From Dressbarn to St. John to even a little Escada and Dior, over 6000 suits have been donated in New York this year alone. In a City where constant replenishing of closets is common, 40% of these impoverished women, mostly single mothers of color, have ever owned a suit.

Dietrick Parrish, Cindi
Leive, and Joi Gordon
First impressions on jobs do matter! Joi Gordon is definitely preaching to the converted at Wednesday morning’s annual sellout breakfast of ‘Women Helping Women’ at New York Athletic Club. The tables are filled with over 300 women from corporations such as FedEx, Dressbarn and Time Warner Cable, dressed, of course, in their professional finery. Fittingly, the presenting sponsors are 20th Century Fox, and “The Devil Wears Prada”. Some of the movie’s high fashion garbs have been auctioned off for ‘Dress for Success’. A long time cheerleader for Dress for Success, Editor in Chief of Glamour, Cynthia Leive is the passionate keynote speaker who urged women to help other women. The National Association of Insurance Women was also honored for their long time support of Dress for Success.

“Our clients can’t believe they actually get to keep these suits,”says Joi Gordon as she points to rack after rack of lightly used suits from size O to 28 Plus in the 31st Street headquarters. Depending on the job or industry they are going after, volunteer personal shoppers match the women to the suits. If it’s to a bank it’s a dark suit, but if it’s to a potential job at the Gap, well that’s a whole other color and style. It’s hard to remember I’m standing in corporate offices, rather than a boutique.
Clockwise from top left: Dietrick Parrish and Lisa Tomanelli, Director of Employment; Board Member Alex Garfield; Joi Gordon with Veronica Li and Jill Arnold (National Association of Insurance Women); Board Member Elena Kiam.
In a corner of this room are shelves filled with makeup donated by Bobbi Brown, a Dress for Success board member.  Every woman is given a makeover and a Bobbi Brown beauty kit. “We don’t ask our clients about their past, only where they’re going. Women hold their heads high when they leave this room. It makes me smile to see them transformed,” quietly says Joi Gordon. Today a group of volunteers are unpacking box after box of purses donated by Joan Rivers.

Joi Gordon and Tory Kiam
Joi Gordon with her enormous smile instantly reflects energy and warmth.   Dressed in a blue pinstriped pants suit she knows what it is like to work with women whose lives have been full of struggles.  Gordon, the daughter of a single mom herself, worked as a prosecutor in the Bronx and then headed Safe Horizons for victims of abuse. “This job is a marriage of passion for me,” she declares.” I also believe it strengthens all of us to see these women transform their lives.”

There are now over 75 locations of Dress for Success located across the U.S, and in Canada, the U.K. and New Zealand. Dress For Success counts on volunteers to help disadvantaged women journey to self-sufficiency. “Almost all our work is done by volunteers, whether you are a personal shopper, sorter, mentor. We need all of you,” Joi Gordon explains.

And by the way, whether you are on to a new size, your closet is too small, or that dark blue ruffled suit just isn’t your style anymore, Dress for Success is always ready for your lightly used donations.