Dress For Success: Going Beyond the Job

Way more than just professional clothing, Dress for Success Indianapolis helps empower women to achieve economic independence.
Dress for Success

Dress For Success Indianapolis celebrated their 20th year with an annual fashion show, Stepping Out in Style (pictured, above), in mid-September. The event is so popular, it sold out the previous spring. 

Dress for Success logo

Dress For Success (DFS) began in New York City in 1997 by a then-college student and some nuns in the basement of a church. Today, the organization currently has 144 offices in 22 countries. Based upon “impression formation,” DFS’ mission 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.” Indianapolis is one of the older affiliates worldwide. 

Shayla Pinner
Shayla Pinner

“There’s a myth that we only help disadvantaged women. That is false,” says Shayla Pinner, Director of Marketing and Development for Dress For Success Indianapolis. “Our programs and resources help equip all women at every stage of their professional journey.”  

DFS understands that by simply dressing professionally and feeling good in what we wear, we build self-esteem and confidence. The organization strives to help all women become financially independent through programs and offerings to uplift women — not just through the clothes they wear, but with education and the tools to realize their full potential. 

Julie Petr
Julie Petr

“Unfortunately, women living in poverty is universal,” states Julie Petr, Executive Director of Dress For Success Indianapolis. “When we lift a mom out of poverty, we lift a community.” 

What started as a means to prepare for a fabulous first impression for job interviews has evolved to be much more. To date, over 19,000 women have benefited from services in Indianapolis, and more than 1.2 million women globally have engaged with DFS.  

Who can benefit? Any woman can use Dress For Success to help them prepare for a career, and DFS’ clientele is diverse. If someone was downsized, or a stay-at-home mom decides to reenter the workforce, they may not have an up-to-date resume, the work experience to fit the existing job market, or the wardrobe. Interview attire may encompass scrubs or steel-toed boots — not just traditional professional outfitting. This is where DFS can help. Through education and gaining the confidence to succeed, DFS can make all the difference. 

“We provide what is necessary to create long-term impact, for ‘any’ job to ‘better’ job, to ‘career’ job,” adds Petr. “Most of our clients join our professional women’s group, and all benefit from mentoring.” 

Career advancement and leadership programs are offered to help propel women in the workplace. Professional development skills such as learning how to prepare for the next promotion, or the importance of personal branding, are common topics. Areas covered include help with mock interviews, resume creation, LinkedIn profile building, and free headshots. In addition, StrengthsFinder testing and coaching was recently added to the curriculum. DFS also provides desktop computers for women whose jobs may require working from home. 

Jeronna Bolden
Jeronna Bolden

“There are many ways to engage with DFS,” says Jeronna Bolden, Director of Programs for Dress For Success Indianapolis. “Someone can donate, and we are always looking for volunteers who love working with our clients — whether as a personal shopper, a mentor, or to serve on one of our many committees.” 

Bolden benefited from DFS services after her job was eliminated shortly after she relocated to Indianapolis. She successfully found another position and is close to completing her PhD. Initially, she was volunteering with the professional women’s group and immediately became a strong advocate for DFS. 

“We get to see instant impact on the women we serve. Each one has a unique story and to watch women feel their best and have the confidence to become economically independent is so rewarding,” states Bolden, who says she loves her job. “We strive to provide VIP service from the moment a woman walks up the steps of Dress For Success.” 

During our interview, Bolden read me an email she received, in real time:  

Thank you, Jeronna. I am so grateful for Dress For Success. I was so nervous to re-enter the workforce after my 20-year marriage ended. Thanks to DFS, I have the outfits and the confidence to move forward. My courses require interacting with auditors and I have the outfits to fit in. Not only that, but I am excelling at my campus job, as more students ask me for help than my colleagues due to my professional appearance.” 

“It’s like instant gratification,” Bolden explains. “It feels good to say that you love what you do — it’s an amazing feeling.” 

These are exciting times for DFS, as demand for services is stronger than ever. Visit indyDFS.org for more information on how you can help uplift other women. 

Kara Kavensky is an author; her memoir “Finding Joy” will be released soon and she is currently working on her follow-up, “Sustaining Joy.” 

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