Dress For Success: How An Outfit Can Change The Course Of A Life

The idea of applying for a job immediately has us thinking about what we’ll wear. Looking good gives us confidence, but for many women, this is a pipe dream. Not-for-profit organisation Dress for Success Sydney held a fashion fundraiser this week to continue their important role in supporting disadvantaged women enter the workforce.

From a job interview, through the first few weeks in a new role, how we dress plays an essential part in how confident we feel when going for and starting a new job. For many of us who have a home, can afford weekly groceries and are generally considered ‘lucky’ – we still wonder how on earth we’ll afford the right gear to make the right impression. So imagine how impossibly out of reach this opportunity would feel for disadvantaged women trying to make their way back into the workforce.

Dress for Success Sydney (DfSS) is a not-for-profit dedicated to helping disadvantaged women achieve economic independence across NSW. And their services go far beyond the right wardrobe: they provide free professional attire, career support programs, mentoring services and more, all empowering women to reach their full potential and succeed in today’s workplace.

This year, DfSS has been named as a finalist in the NSW Telstra Business Awards, and dressed their 10,000th client. Clients come as referrals from partner organisations like domestic violence shelters, homeless shelters, job training programs and employment agencies. We’re well aware it’s a tough job market, so the gift of financial independence and knowing you’re able to support your family and yourself has never been more crucial.

To continue their good work, DfSS held a fundraising event this week, – 100 Years Of Power Dressing – where personalities modelled the styles iconic to decade from 1900 through 2000. Author and human rights advocate Tara Moss, former world surfing champion Layne Beachley OAM, fashion stylist Donny Galella, Getaway’s Catriona Rowntree and more, took to the catwalk to show how much of an impact dress can have on our lives. Models were dressed in a selection of garments including pieces from fashion’s game-changers like Chanel, Dior, Valentino, Versace, Vivienne Westwood and Mary Katrantzou.

The importance of a dress

Before the show, guests were introduced to a client of DfSS, who shared her story and gratitude to the organisation. Melissa O’Connell had a wonderful life; a loving husband (her high school sweetheart) and a baby. But her life drastically changed when her husband tragically died of a brain aneurysm. Like all women do, Melissa hoped her following relationship would be supportive and filled with love, but sadly, she would suffer through domestic abuse.

Unable to cope, Melissa withdrew from friends and family, and realised she no longer recognised the woman she had become. The 9th incident of abuse would finally be the last: Melissa left the relationship, along with her two sons, and was introduced to DfSS through a single mother support group.

She recalled how a red dress would re-route the course of her life. Given to her by DfSS to wear to an important interview with a large corporate firm, Melissa said this red dress made her “feel like a million dollars”. That confidence shone; she got the job, and incidentally, a husband (who she met through the role). Melissa’s story drove home the importance of organisations like these who give disadvantaged women a fighting chance.

The fashion show event raised $70,000 – and considering it takes $350 to take a woman from welfare to the workplace – this effort will make a huge difference to hundreds of lives just like Melissa’s.

To make a donation to DfSS, click here.

Sonia Taylor is the editor of The Cusp.

Lead image: Layne Beachley OAM and Kirk Pengilly. Credit: Brigitte Grant.