Conventional wisdom is dress for the job you want, not the job you have. But what if you don't have a job at all? • Could you get one without the proper attire? • In theory, yes. Try telling that to an interviewer — or a job applicant — though.
"How you look really does matter because you never get a second chance to make a first impression," says Joi Gordon, CEO of the charitable organization Dress for Success, which has added to its own resume since it launched in 1997 providing interview suits to those who couldn't afford them.
The group now offers office clothes, image counseling, career guidance and financial planning to women looking to re-enter the work force.
A worker's wardrobe is more than window dressing. It can be a statement about her aspirations, Gordon says.
Looking good leads to feeling good, and you can wear that with pride every day, she adds.
"At the heart of it, the suit is an important part of how to land a job, but also how to keep a job," Gordon says.
Suits to Dress for Success come from both personal and corporate donors.
More than 600,000 people have been outfitted nationally, and they've also learned about expectations, presentation and professionalism.
Beauty industry icon Bobbi Brown is a volunteer, sponsor and adviser for Dress for Success.
She served as chairwoman for its gala this year, and has created fundraising products, including a blue ikat-print scarf ($42) and a beauty kit with eye shadows, lipstick, gloss and mascara ($60).
"Dress for Success is very close to my heart," Brown says.
"It empowers women to be self-sufficient and take care of themselves. What I do every day is give women confidence through beauty, and Dress for Success is about confidence, too."
In hiring for her own business, Brown says she looks for can-do people, and that includes pulling it all together for the interview: appearance, punctuality and organization.
"You have five minutes to let people fall in love with you," she says.
Brown spends much of her time at fashion shows, in corporate meetings and on photo shoots, but one of her professional highlights each year is shooting the campaign for Dress for Success, she says.
Wardrobe stylist Rahel Berihu also donates time, helping pull the outfits for women ahead of their job interviews.
"Some of them walk in and they don't want to be there. They're ashamed to be there, but then they walk out and their head is up and they are ready to get that job," she says proudly.
The clothes are the vehicle for transition, says Berihu, who also talks with the women about where they want to go from there.
While they're switching out sizes and colors, she'll ask some questions likely to come up in an interview, and add some reminders about good personal and professional habits.
There's a little pampering, too — and the women appreciate it.
"I try to treat them like a star. I will bring suits to the dressing room, mix and match for them, find out if they like wearing skirts or pants. . . . And when I can give out an Armani suit — and we have those — it's a great day," she says.
"They look in a mirror and see someone they've never seen before. A suit is really a symbol of success," adds Gordon.
"You've achieved some level of success when you have the suit of armor."