Dress for Success Changes Women’s Lives in Southwestern Pennsylvania

Apr 23, 2018

For jobseekers everywhere, figuring out what to wear to that first interview is critical when it comes to making a great first impression. But it’s not always easy to acquire the clothing that may be needed to look the part. That’s where the nonprofit organization known as Dress for Success can help.

“Our tagline is Clothing, Connections, Confidence,” says Tanya Mallory, CEO of Dress for Success Pittsburgh. “The clothing piece is of course what we’re best known for.  Beyond that though, are the connections we can help women make.  We find out what barriers to employment our clients are facing, and we collaborate with community partners who can provide additional support to the women we serve.  And finally, the ultimate goal is confidence. Our hope is that every women who comes to see us will leave feeling more confident than when she walked in the door. For some women, the clothing alone will get her there. For others, finding that confidence requires additional support along with reminders about all she’s overcome to walk in our door, to get through that interview or to ask for that raise – whatever the next step in her journey might be.” 

Dress for Success got its start twenty years ago in New York City, when a young law student used a small inheritance to begin a basement boutique that provided work-appropriate attire to women in need.  Today, it is a global organization that serves women in more than 150 cities across 30 different countries. 

“Here in southwestern PA, our footprint is Washington, Greene, Butler, Allegheny, and Fayette counties,” says Mallory, who leads a staff of eight women. “Each location has a boutique, and our goal is to make it more of a shopping experience than a social services experience.  A lot of our clients are very burnt-out, feeling like a nuisance and a number.  We want them to feel empowered, and cared about, and more confident when they walk out our door.”

For an initial interview, a Dress for Success  client will receive one complete outfit, including accessories and shoes. Once she lands the job, she qualifies for three more outfits, to be mixed and matched as needed to take her through that approximate two-week time period before she receives her first paycheck. 

In 2017, Dress for Success Pittsburgh had its biggest year, providing services to 2,601 clients throughout the region – and the goal for 2018 is to help 3,000 women.

One of the ways Mallory plans to reach more women is through an effort she calls “mobile suiting”.  Instead of requiring women to come to one of their local branches, Dress for Success staff and volunteers load up their own vehicles with clothing and accessories, drive to a set location, and set up shop in an on-site conference room or other available space. 

“One of our organization’s values is to meet women where they are, figuratively.  Meaning, we accept where they are in their lives right now, and we go from there, with no preconceived notions or inflated expectations. Now, we’re looking to meet women where they are in a very literal sense as well.  Transportation and childcare come up consistently as barriers to employment for the women we serve, particularly in Washington County and other more rural areas where public transportation can be challenging, women just can’t get to us. So, we’re going to them!” 

More than anything else, Mallory wants to make it clear that there is no “typical” client when it comes to Dress for Success. “Our clients are women. From a very young woman who is just getting ready to enter the workforce and needs something like non-skid shoes for restaurant work, to a mom who is re-entering the workforce after being home with kids and needs an interview outfit, to a woman in Washington County who has accepted an offer in the oil and gas industry, and needs her first pair of steel-toed boots!  That’s actually a high need in our Washington office, and it’s not an item that typically gets donated, so we buy steel-toed boots with money from the fundraisers that we do.”

Range Resources is a long-time supporter of Dress for Success. In addition to donations of clothing and funds, Range employees also volunteer at workshops focused on helping women find their way into, or back into, the local workforce. A group of women from Range recently attended a workshop at Citizens Library in downtown Washington. “It was a great event,” says Mallory. “One of our Dress for Success clients who attended wrote us this note, saying: ‘I would like to thank all of the women from Range for their enthusiasm and effort in helping us. I felt like they really cared, and it really made a difference.’”

Range’s Christina Kramer says that attending the workshops is a positive experience for the group from Range as well. “Dress for Success is a wonderful organization that is working every day to improve the lives of women in Washington County and throughout southwestern Pennsrangeylvania. We are proud to be able to support their efforts.” 

With a staff of just eight full-time employees, the local arm of Dress for Success relies heavily on volunteer support.

“Our volunteers are critical, and in fact we are in need of volunteers right now, especially in Washington County,” says Mallory.

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