Indeed, 72 percent of Americans believe that a polished appearance can brighten the prospects of women getting hired and earning promotions, according to a 2010 Newsweek poll. Clothing of candidates in job interviews remains a top employer complaint in Miami, said Sonia Jacobson, co-founder of the Miami affiliate of Dress for Success and former consultant for an image-development firm.
“Fifty percent of the initial interview is formed within seconds of walking in the room,” she said. To be sure its beneficiaries are truly well clad, Dress for Success declines 75 percent of the donations it is offered because they don’t meet its quality standards. But donations from name brands like Ann Taylor help ensure that Dress for Success job applicants look ready to work.
Every room in the nonprofit’s small white house in Overtown is neatly packed with racks of clothing — many with designer labels. Jacobson pulled a BCBG dress from one rack; a bright red Tahari suit and a cream Liz Claiborne sweater hung from another. In an adjacent room, a shoe rack held Stuart Weitzman and Kenneth Cole heels.
In 1995, when the Miami program was just starting out as Suited for Success, it was a silk beige suit, matching purse, and pumps for LaQuita Sartin, Jacobson’s first client.
But that’s not all. The flecks of hazel in Sartin’s caramel-colored eyes practically conceal the fact that the left eye is made of glass. She lost her real eye in a confrontation. After bouncing between minimum-wage jobs to support her three children, the welfare office put Sartin in Jacobson’s path.
“When she left, I turned around and told Barbara, the other founder, ‘We have to get her an eye,’ ” Jacobson said. The Bascom Palmer Eye Institute agreed to do the surgery pro bono, but Jacobson still had to round up $2,500 for the prosthetic eye. So, she held a fundraiser with the help of the Professional Women’s Group in Fort Lauderdale. Then Jacobson presented an oversized check to Sartin.
“I was so overwhelmed with happiness that I began to cry,” Sartin said. “I had been a victim, but then I was blessed.” Sartin, now 40, works in the billing department at Comcast. Just three more semesters at Miami Dade College stand between her and a psychology degree. Eventually, she wants to open her own home for disadvantaged boys in New Orleans.
The clothes that came from Dress for Success still hang in Howell’s closet, she said. She keeps them as reminders of where she came from. Today, she mines the clearance racks at Macy’s and Neiman Marcus for her businesswear. “I have no shame in recycling outfits,” she said.