No woman should have to say no to an interview because of a lack of professional clothing. Suited for Change provides interview and job clothing for women experiencing homelessness or financial hardship. For almost 30 years now, Suited for Change has helped around 30,000 women in DC put their best foot forward in interviews to land the job. Clothing helps empower women to be their best selves and reach financial independence.
Tell me about the “suiting” process.
We work with workforce development groups who have employment programs for women who want to be chefs, in construction, work with computers— really anything. When these women are in the interview process, they are sent to us for a suiting appointment where they pick out a couple interview outfits. The women we work with are paired with a coach who helps with interview skills and their resume. Our employees are trained in trauma informed care methods to ensure everyone feels safe. We try to use clothing as a way to break down barriers and make women feel comfortable. Our clothes come from donations and are all dry cleaned prior to appointments. One of the things we do is help a woman see herself in a way she hasn’t before. It’s the best feeling when she leaves saying, “I look great, I can’t wait for my kids to see me like this.” If a client gets the job, she can come back for another appointment where she picks out some more outfits to use for work.
Do you see clothes affecting self confidence?
Absolutely. So many women don’t go to job interviews because they don’t have the right clothes to wear. Going to an interview is scary enough already without worrying about clothes, so I can’t imagine how terrified they must be. Part of our experience is asking them what they like and how they want to present themselves. We send them home with pictures of themselves and build them up the whole time about how great they look. I love working with women who have recently come out of incarceration because they have been beaten down so far and it feels amazing to give them unconditional and non-judgemental support. The simple things like recognizing women by name, listening to what they want, and giving them our full attention totally transforms how they view themselves. Even though we only have an hour with them, it can be the confidence push they need to excel in the interview and get that job.
How has the pandemic affected Suited for Change?
The pandemic is just the beginning of the crisis for the women we serve. We were completely closed for a while and couldn’t see clients because there weren't any clients to see. We have 3 dressing rooms, so once things opened up a bit we staggered our appointments to only have 1 person in each dressing room per day. Our clients live in homeless and battered women’s shelters where they can’t socially distance, so we took every precaution. We used to serve 50 women a week and now it’s about 10. It’s not because the jobs aren’t available, it’s because there’s a lack of child care. These women are single parents who can’t afford babysitters. Even if their kids are in school, things are closing so frequently still with kids getting sent home to quarantine. We’ve been doing Zoom check-in calls with people who have been here before to see if there’s anything we can do for them. There can’t be a full return to the workforce until child care is in place.
What is your favorite part of your job?
When you find your true passion it’s not work. The best part of my job is getting to see women see themselves in a new light. All we do is offer kindness and support to lift up other women. As women, we are so hard on ourselves. It’s always stuck with me how critical our clients are when they try on clothes, there’s always comments about their weight and saying self-degrading things. All women feel that way, we’re all the same inside. When a connection is made and they see that we aren’t there to judge them, it’s really beautiful. So many women living on the edges don’t feel seen or heard, so I love providing that for them.