During World War II, six million women entered the workforce, taking the jobs of the men who went off to war, and it was never the same again. Women had a taste of the working world and a bit of independence for the first time. Many never left the working world.
In today’s working world, a woman must compete against many others, create a stellar resume and have a head-to-toe look that says, “I’m a confident professional.” For a woman who has never been in the work force, having the right clothing can make all the difference between getting the job or being stuck at the bottom of the food chain.
That being said, the pay gap between sexes still exists and according to nonprofit organization Catalyst, women only make up to about 15 percent of the executive positions among Fortune 500 companies.
In 1995, at age 23, Nancy Lublin founded Dress for Success in an elevator. She came across a $5,000 check from her great-grandfather and the rest is history.
The name suggests that it’s all about fashion at DFS, but a closer look at its Denver location suggests it does a lot more than just provide professional clothing.
While DFS knew the right outfit could make all the difference in a woman’s career, they weren’t prepared for the 150 cities, 27 countries and the one million women they’d actually empower.
The Denver affiliate estimates that all of their clients lived under the poverty level before coming to DFS. In 2016, they provided over 1,500 women with professional clothing for interviews or first week employment.
Executive Director Amara Martin leads the Denver chapter of DFS with four cornerstone programs that help women find job positions that offer a livable wage and a career path, as well as keeping those positions for years to come.
The four programs include the Going Places Network, Professional Women’s Group, Career Center and the Professional Clothing program. Three are completely free with referral from one of their 220 referral agencies in or around Denver and the Professional Women’s Group is open to any woman who is working and wants to network.
Martin, who has been in the fashion industry all her life, just celebrated her 10th year as executive director of the Denver affiliate program.
“We’re dressing women but that’s not what we’re really doing. We’re altering the direction of their lives. We are giving them the tools in order to achieve self-defined success, which is the most important thing that you can do to somebody,” Martin said.
Martin understands that women identify with fashion and how they look with how they feel, which is why it is so important to have the right tools to create a professional wardrobe.
“As soon as we put on something we feel good in that is comfortable, you automatically stand up straighter. You
automatically feel that confidence and that’s what you need to get a job. It is not the education, it is not the training, it is confidence in yourself,”Martin said. “Fashion plays a huge role in that. We carry all kinds of different things because we fit every single person’s style.”
The Denver boutique, located at 1510 High Street, is set up to cater to women from beginning to end. From the warm welcome from a volunteer stylist and Martin herself, women start to feel like they are in a high-end boutique that makes it all about them.
“With us [women] it is vital you start to feel, I deserve to be treated this way. It changes your mindset about yourself which again makes that confidence better,” Martin said.
Volunteers help pick out everything from pant suits and jackets to undergarments, shoes and accessories. Once the whole look is put together, the pink walls and chandelier in the dressing room, lined with mirrors, show the reflection of a made-over woman ready to take on the working world.
Styling advice, clothing, accessories and sometimes makeup are all things that women can access at DFS. Beyond the presentation, DFS helps women with interview skills, resumes and networking to ensure the jobs they apply for are jobs they can keep.
“Anyone who needs help, we will help them because we truly believe we want you to not need us. We help you in the beginning so you don’t have to worry about what you look like. Then, as you continue to work, you won’t need us,” Martin said.
As a nonprofit, DFS runs solely off donations both financial and gently used professional woman’s clothing and accessories. To find out more about DFS Denver, visit their website. https://denver.dressforsuccess.org.