Program helps women enter the work force with confidence and style

Getting dressed for success

Dressing for success, and for a new life

May 31, 2006|By KAREN NITKIN | KAREN NITKIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Marcia Randall-Bey arrived at Success in Style recently with a simple goal: to get an outfit for a job interview.

Not so long ago, the 47-year-old Baltimore woman had been addicted to heroin and cocaine. But after spending two days in jail, she was "scared straight" and has been clean since 2003, she said.

Now she was hoping for a housekeeping job at a hotel. But once she saw herself in the mirror, dressed in a smart black pantsuit with a crisp purple-striped shirt under the blazer, she changed her game plan.

FOR THE RECORD - The incorrect phone number was given at the end of a story about Success In Style in Wednesday's Howard section of The Sun. The number is 410 750-6475. The Sun regrets the error.

"I'm going to start my own business," she said, admiring her reflection. "No more housekeeping."

That's the kind of reaction Jeanette Kendall was hoping for when she started the nonprofit Success in Style in 2001. Kendall, who lives in Ellicott City, believes the right clothes can provide a critical dose of self-confidence for women trying to turn their lives around.

As Faye McNierney, a Success in Style volunteer, explained: "A lot of times, you put them in business attire, and it gives them a whole new outlook."

Last year, the organization provided outfits to about 200 clients, including women getting divorced, leaving abusive relationships, recently in prison and otherwise ready for change. But Kendall believes many more women can benefit from the service.

That is why she is holding a Success in Style open house from noon to 5 p.m. tomorrow.

"This annual open house is a way for us to let the community know what we're doing," Kendall said. She is hoping 100 guests, including representatives from social service agencies, will attend. Clients are generally referred by social service agencies and churches.

Success in Style clients typically leave with three or four outfits, shoes, coats, handbags and other accessories. They also get a coupon for a free haircut, and tips on finding the right sizes and colors for them.

Perhaps just as valuable, they get an hour or two of being fussed over. Volunteers will tell them how to knot a scarf, or that rolling up their sleeves makes them look taller. They might leave with a wig, a new lipstick, or a bra that fits correctly.

Kendall started Success in Style as an offshoot of Elegance in Style, a company founded in the 1990s by Kendall, Patti Francomacaro and Mary Warren and devoted to helping women "be educated consumers of fashion," a mission that included teaching teenage girls the value of dressing appropriately.

As Elegance in Style customers pruned their closets, Kendall said, they asked about places to donate their clothes. Kendall decided to give them to women in need, and Success in Style was born.

About a year ago, the founders gave Elegance in Style a way to focus exclusively on Success in Style, she said.

Success in Style started in Kendall's basement; now it occupies two rooms in an office park off U.S. 40. One room looks like a small boutique, with suits and separates arranged on racks, shoes lined up along one wall and rows of pocketbooks along another. The space is cheery, painted in bright colors, with a colorful border of whimsical handbags circling the walls. A second room holds more clothes, as well as undergarments and accessories.

On a recent Tuesday, three women, including Randall-Bey, were brought to the office by Alfreda Robinson-Dawkins, founder of the National Women's Prison Project, a Baltimore organization devoted to helping women get on their feet after spending time behind bars.

Robinson-Dawkins said she spent 10 years in federal prison on conspiracy charges related to her son's drug dealing. She was released in November 2000, and started the organization in 2003. She has been taking her clients to Success in Style for about a year, she said.

"She's probably [helped] about 30 of my clients," Robinson-Dawkins said of Kendall. "Most of the ladies that have come through here - I see such a difference. They are so excited. They can't believe how they are treated. I know it seems like a small thing, but it makes such a difference."

When a woman arrives at Success in Style, she is greeted by a volunteer such as McNierney, who sits down with her and goes through a booklet that asks questions about personal style, body type and color choices.

Then the volunteer starts selecting clothes, and the client disappears into a dressing room to try things on.

One client, Tanya Morring, 32, was having difficulty finding clothes that worked, but volunteer Catherine Henry refused to give up.

"The jackets aren't fitting," said Morring, near tears.

"Tanya's been blessed," Henry said, noting that Morring's difficulties stemmed from the enviable problems of having long legs and a generous bust. Eventually, after Morring rejected several suits, Henry found her an outfit consisting of cream-colored slacks and a turquoise twin set.

"I like it," Morring said.

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