Dressing for Success Both Inside and Out

This Giving Tuesday, join Olivia in supporting Dress For Success.

Early on, Dress for Success CEO Joi Gordon and co. realized that fashion isn’t just an armor — but that it could lead to economic independence. Since 1997, Dress for Success has seen 76% of their women in employed within 90 days of the program’s end with 80% retaining employment after one year. “I often say that the jacket we give to her is her life jacket,” Gordon told us on a recent site visit. “How she sees herself is, in many cases, how the world sees her.” It’s this idea that fashion can be a starting point, and a transformative power, that makes Dress for Success so real within an industry that can seem as ephemeral as it does ethereal.

And it’s these values that drew Olivia in to become a Dress for Success Impact Ambassador. For their partnership, Olivia and Dress for Success held a styling session where the fashion authority gave her tips and tricks for not only looking good for an interview, but acing it, too. Eleven brands donated products for this year's Power Piece campaign, with four of those brands—Tommy Hilfiger, Stuart Weitzman, Swarovski, and Westward Learning—coming from Olivia's personal connections. During the styling session, Olivia found a power piece for each woman from the brand partners. It's these products that are available to purchase on Dress for Success's microsite from today until December 3rd, with all proceeds directly benefiting the organization. 

"It has been so rewarding to help raise awareness for an incredible cause like Dress for Success and the important work they are doing," said Olivia.
"The whole experience of partnering with the organization, and especially working with the inspiring women, has been both motivating and heartwarming and I look forward to continuing our relationship."

Below, we spoke with Dress for Success CEO Joi Gordon on the emotion that goes into the organization’s work, the company’s relationship with retailers (and its need for more), and what dressing to succeed means in today’s everchanging workforce.

Dress for Success doesn’t just stop at clothing. When did everyone realize that you needed to go beyond that?

Joi Gordon: I think the public thinks we started this 10 years ago. We’re 22 years old. Pretty early on we realized that if we were going to truly define success — or help women define their own success — it had to be more than clothing. Our commitment to her is that she not only lands her job, but she keeps her job and thrives. So we started creating wrap-around services for working women to ensure that she had every tool in her tool belt that she needed to succeed in work and in life; that’s professional development, leadership development, financial literacy, health and wellness, etc. And we would just stack on more programs; the more we would add, the more they would join. We realized she wanted more than clothing — although important — she really needed the tools to succeed. And that’s what Dress for Success has become.  

At Dress for Success, the presence of a proverbial “Her” diffuses every room. “She” is a woman — their woman — who has, by way of the road less traveled, come to the charitable organization in search of the next step in her journey. In its multi-level New York headquarters sits a one-stop-shop where women can come to receive not just an interview outfit, but career training, leadership development courses, financial literacy lessons, and more. That people should dress for the job they want is, after 20+ years in the business, a moot point for Dress for Success. It’s what happens after that matters.  

What is Dress for Success’s stance on the idea that fashion is armor and can empower someone from the inside out?

JG: I often say that the jacket we give to her is her life jacket. So, it is armor. How she sees herself is, in many cases, how the world sees her. We want her to see the best in herself. The more we dress her outside, it’s important at the same time that we dress her on the inside and address what’s happening on the inside. That’s about building self-confidence and self-worth, about showing her who she was intended to be, about unraveling all of the baggage and self-doubt talk in her head. It’s about giving her all of the tools and cheering her on along the way, making sure she has the support — not only of the woman who is dressing her in the boutique, but the woman who is helping her in our career center, and the leaders in her journey.

It’s more than just giving women clothing. This is about giving women a chance at a new life and that there’s an opportunity for all women to get involved. 

What is a common misconception about fashion that you hear from women entering the center?

JG: How you look is how you feel, so it’s important for us to make her feel great. There’s also this perception now that people don’t dress up in the workplace anymore. So, is it necessary that she wears a suit or a dress in an interview for a laidback work environment space?

But it’s more than just dressing up for an interview — she’s dressing up for the runway of her life. When she dresses a certain way, she stands taller, she feels smarter, she’s braver — the confidence exudes out of her. So the dressing of her is really kind of undressing all of the past and giving her a new start: with a new look and a new life and a new forward. So that “dressing for success” is such a spiritual transformation for her when she looks in the mirror, especially when she comes out of some tough times and it’s been hard to look at yourself for a while. Having her stand in front of the mirror is very cathartic; it’s the caterpillar moment when she blooms right in front of us. So, clothing matters. People still judge you on the way you look. We address that at Dress for Success.

Do you wish Dress for Success had more access to high-fashion? Do labels matter?

It doesn’t matter to her. We just wish more labels would matter to us. What we give her is gently used or nearly new, but it’s brand new for her. She’s not looking in the back of a dress for a label. But we just wish more companies, brands, and retailers would give us their excess inventory or cut directly for us. How much does it take to put forth an extra SKU of blouses when you’re running blouses? If that blouse will make a difference in a woman’s life — make her stand taller or feel more fierce in an interview — and get the job so she can take care of herself and her family.  

What is one thing you want people to know about Dress for Success?

JG: I want people to know that we’re more than a suit. It’s more than just giving women clothing. This is about giving women a chance at a new life and that there’s an opportunity for all women to get involved. If Olivia can do it, any woman can do it. This is a place where all people are welcome to help other people get back on their feet. And if you help her, you can help her children.

Do your part in supporting Dress for Success by heading to their microsite and donating today. All sales of featured pieces from now until Giving Tuesday, December 3rd, will directly benefit this important organization. 

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