Lisa Stephens

For many, what we decide to wear each day is a simple question that leads us into our closets to make our selections among the variety of options available to us.  Yet, for others, who are seeking an opportunity to better themselves or better the living conditions for their families, this question is a daunting and confidence debilitating dilemma.  For many women across the Tampa Bay area, DRESS FOR SUCCESS has been there for them.  This not-for-profit organization has enabled women to go out and gain employment, or further their chances of advancement in their current employment situations. Their mission statement is “To empower women to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire and the development tools to help women thrive in work and in life.”  The Tampa Bay branch of this incredible organization has done just that, and more.

Executive Director of the Tampa Bay affiliate, Katie McGill, began her relationship with DRESS FOR SUCCESS /Tampa Bay as a volunteer on their Advisory Board.  With years of nonprofit experience behind her before taking on this role, this organization captured her heart.  Katie explained this organization began in 1996 when three nuns started the effort in the basement of their church.   When Nancy Lublin received a $5,000 inheritance from her great-grandfather, she wanted to do something with those funds that would be lasting.  She teamed up with three nuns in her area and created a boutique in the basement of a church in the Manhattan, New York area.   Fast forward to today; DRESS FOR SUCCESS is now available to women worldwide seeking economic development and an opportunity to better themselves personally. 

The Beginning…

In the beginning, the effort was to provide a suit to women who were set to go on a job interview.  This met the need of many women who were not economically advantaged to afford a new suit to go on a job interview.  The scope of DRESS FOR SUCCESS has since expanded and now provides clothing, shoes, purses, and accessories to women who have set interviews for potential jobs and are yearning to make the best first impression possible.  Today, DRESS FOR SUCCESS has 150 affiliate chapters in 30 different countries.  According to Katie, the Tampa Bay affiliate was the first in Florida and just tenth of the overall affiliates world -wide, since its’ founding, for women to go to seeking help.

Who can seek the help of this incredible opportunity?  According to Katie, it is, “Anyone who can get here from around the Tampa Bay area.”  They receive referrals from numerous organizations around the Tampa Bay area.  If women are seeking help getting a job or rebuilding their lives, they can call the office directly to be directed to an organization that can help them seek an opportunity with DRESS FOR SUCCESS.  Originally, the organization helped women from ages 18 to 38.  However, in recent, they have discovered an opportunity and need to help older women as well and this organization has risen to meet the needs of those as well!  Katie stated, “I’ve seen homeless women with a PH. D. searching for jobs. We want to help all women seeking employment.”  She further explained DRESS FOR SUCCESS works

with numerous area organizations who refer clients to them.  Clients will receive a phone call to set an appointment to meet with a personal shopper to select the best outfit for that interview they have scheduled. At that initial appointment, the client will work the personal shopper to select an outfit, purse, and accessories for their initial interview.  The purse will include a personal note of encouragement to the receiver.  If the person gets the job, they are welcome to return to DRESS FOR SUCCESS to select an additional six outfits to get them started in their career.

Meeting the Needs of others 

McGill notes two special opportunities available to women at DRESS FOR SUCCESS.  For women seeking employment, she references their “Going Places” program.  This is a seven-week program focusing on the efforts of gaining employment.  The program includes interview training, both face to face and telephone interviews, coaching and even dress rehearsals for women seeking employment.  Their “Professional Women’s Group” is a support for those women already employed but are seeking coaching opportunities on how to get a raise, promotion or how to excel in their current positions. 

McGill has many success stories to share.  She shares the story of “Tina” who spent 38 years in prison and one of her first stops from behind bars was DRESS FOR SUCCESS.  McGill advised her, “You can’t get clean until you come clean,” when advising Tina on her hopeful interviews to get a job.  Tina went through the DRESS FOR SUCCESS program and now is employed as a supervisor at her current place of employment. “Nicolet,” from their Professional Women’s Group,” has exceeded as well.  This is a group of already employed women.  They meet to hear encouraging speakers to motivate attendees. Each year, one woman from the group is selected to attend a leadership summit.  After they return, they are granted $500 to work on a community service project that will better their community.  Nicolet created a project than enabled elderly in her community to garden.  “She created elevated garden boxes that allowed elderly in wheelchairs to garden again!” said McGill.  This enabled the elderly in local senior communities to get out and plant and garden, which also served as great hand therapy for those participating.

How You Can Help

The current needs of DRESS FOR SUCCESS are monetary donations to keep these programs going.  They also seek toiletry items such as deodorant for incoming clients.  Another need is dry snacks.  “A snack for me is a meal to someone else,” said McGill.  Bottled water and packaged snacks are always welcome.  Clothing and accessory donations are always welcome.  Monetary donations would help them continue the programs they currently offer. 

McGill’s motivation comes from her own experience.  It could have been me walking through that door seeking help.  I know what it’s like to be unemployed or to cry through the night over something.  I don’t ever want to forget that.” 

Thank you, Katie McGill, and DRESS FOR SUCCESS for being there for so many in need in the Tampa Bay area!

For more information or donation and volunteer opportunities, visit tampabay.dressforsuccess.org.  For those seeking local help through this organization, call 813-259-1876.