Suited for Success

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Helping women in need

by jennifer molk

Its storefront is a bit non-descript and a bit trendy at the same time, blending in well with the rest of its downtown Billings neighbors.

But what goes on inside is pretty remarkable.

Dress for Success, located at 304 N. 29th Street, is a worldwide non-profit organization and one of 75 locations throughout the country that provides professional-quality business outfits and accessories free of charge to low-income women looking for employment.

The Billings store opened 10 years ago and has since suited over 5,000 clients, and current executive director Julie Wickhorst estimates her store will serve over 600 women this year. These women are in a variety of social classes and economic situations, but when they become one, are simply seeking the perfect job.

“We help women overcome some of the barriers they face as they try to enter or re-enter the work force,” Julie says. “Our mission is direct, immediate and simple – to instill in each woman our faith in her ability to succeed in life.”

Wickhorst, who has been volunteering with Dress for Success for the past eight years and just recently undertook executive duties, says the transformation process is equally fulfilling for the volunteers and for the client.

“Each client leaves with hope that she can have a new beginning and a better life. Dignity and respect are the cornerstones of our service and every woman is treated in this manner.”

Many of the women who tap the services of Dress for Success are single mothers who are struggling to juggle the demands of childcare and keeping a full-time job. In addition, clients include victims of domestic violence, women from pre-release centers and those enmeshed in mental health services.

“Clients come from a variety of challenging situations,” Julie explains. “They are in a catch-22 situation with no money or means to purchase proper clothing to land their jobs. We give them a hand by providing them with clothing for their interviews.”

The catch-22 dilemma refers to the all-too-common situation when a woman in need attempts to enter the workforce but doesn’t have the funds to go shopping for expensive and trendy clothes to secure a paying position. But the question remains: without a job, how can she afford a suit, and without the proper clothes, how can she make a good first impression?

Items given to the job-seekers courtesy of Dress for Success include business attire, undergarments, jewelry, makeup, shoes, purses and coats, ensuring a confident inner glow as well as a nice outer appearance.

“We also give them a gift bag with soap, deodorant, shampoo and other necessities,” Julie lists. “After the women land their jobs, they return and we give them several days worth of clothing for their employment. We also invite them to return after 30 days to reward them with another outfit and a gift.

The kids are covered too

And it doesn’t stop there!

“Many of the women are single mothers who are not only concerned about themselves, but also about supporting their families. For these women, we have a “Kids Kloset” where we allow them to pick an outfit and a book for each child.

Julie and her team of volunteers agree the real reward first belongs to them.

“When you hear their stories and feel you took part in helping them get back on their feet, it is truly is amazing!” she smiles. “We always remind ourselves we are all one paycheck away from being in the same situation as our clients.”

Time to raid your own closet…

Here is what Dress for Success can use from you. Remember, if you would wear it to a job interview, so too will a Dress for Success client. Nothing is too large or too small.

Coordinated, contemporary, interview-appropriate and gently-worn skirt and pant suits

Crisp blouses

Blazers and jackets in good condition, perhaps with a $20 bill in the pocket?

Professional shoes




… and from your kids’ closet:

New or gently-worn kids’ clothes size 0 to 18years

Gently-used children’s books

Don’t have a business suit and a pair of pumps to donate? Dress for Success will graciously accept your financial donation (even $10 makes a huge difference) or your time as a much needed volunteer in the store.

“The Billings Dress for Success is solely supported financially by individuals and corporations in the Billings community,” Julie says. “All donations are tax deductible.” Donations can be mailed to 4520 Rangeview Dr. Billings 59106 or brought to the store at 304 N. 29th St. on Wednesday from 9-1, or by appointment, 256-7304.

“I don’t know how to express this without sounding like a broken record, but we truly give these women more than just clothing; we are providing a support system of encouragement and the belief that they can succeed in life.” SFM

Jennifer Molk is a freelance writer from Billings. She is currently at work on a screenplay.