Dress for Success aims to reach more women, no matter their income

Dress for success Collins

Rebecca Dark wants us to know that there’s more to Dress for Success Austin than suits. Dark, the local chapter’s program manager, says the nonprofit continually expands its programs to be more inclusive to women at all stages of their careers and at all income levels. “We serve women who were trying to get a job and those who are trying to get a better job,” said Dark.

In fact, many of the clients who do turn to Dress for Success for help already have jobs. Dark says, however, that 72 percent of those clients make less than $15 an hour, barely enough for a family of two to make ends meet. In Texas, the annual income for a full-time worker paid the current minimum wage of $7.25 comes to $15,080, which is below what the federal government would describe as poverty for a family of two. Earning $15 an hour would put a woman’s annual income at $31,200 a year, close to the annual income that would qualify her child for reduced-fee lunch at school, which is $29,637. “We’re trying not to segment our clients by income level,” said Dark, in order to make sure anyone who identifies as a woman is welcome to use their services. But considering women still earn 82 cents for every dollar a man earns, it’s clear that even those clients who come to Dress for Success and have jobs have to work harder to earn more. 

Still, there are others who may be struggling less with income and more with recent experience interviewing for a job. Dark says they’ve helped women from college professors, to veterans transitioning from the military, to others who were re-entering the workforce after raising their children. One of its clients, Harolyn Collins, first came to Dress for Success after working with an AARP program called Back to Work at 50. Dress for Success gets referrals for clients from more than 90 nonprofits and agencies. 

“While attending the program there was a day when we had to do mock interviews, and we had to dress as if we were in front of an interviewer. This scared me because I had nothing to wear,” said Collins. “I went to my adviser and she told me about Dress for Success.”

Each client spends an hour discussing their career options and learning about the Dress for Success programs, then she spends another hour learning about professional attire and being fitted for clothes. Collins says she remembers being worried about not qualifying for the program. “It turned out to be one of the best days,” she said. Collins has since gone through Dress for Success’s financial literacy program and is a part of its professional women’s group. Currently she’s an administrative assistant at Gus Garcia Young Men’s Leadership Academy.

Since the Austin affiliate opened in 2003, it’s served more than 16,000 women, many of them participating in its career-planning program, CAPE. Eighty-seven percent of the clients who participate in CAPE become employed within 90 days of completing the program. “At my age I have learned that one must keep themselves relevant in the workplace in order to be marketable and employable,” said Collins, “and Dress for Success has helped me with do both.”

PHOTO: Harolyn Collins, a Dress for Success Austin client, now serves as one of its ambassadors. Contributed by Dress for Success Austin. 

Note: A version of this article also appeared in the Austin American-Statesman on September 22, 2019.

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