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Clothes Help Make The Woman

Getting a fresh start at the Bottomless Closet

March, New York–Deanna Brooks appeared from behind the cheerful pink and yellow plaid curtains of the Bottomless Closet dressing area with a look of wonder on her face. Thirty- seven years old and the single mother of four children, with an 11- and 18 year-old still at home, Brooks is now eager to put her days on public assistance behind her. A student at the College of New Rochelle, Brooks spends five nights a week studying to be a social worker. Her immediate goal is to find a position that will allow her to complete her final three years of study.

Deanna Brooks came to the Bottomless Closet, like over 1,500 women before her, through a referral agency, one of nearly thirty public and private job training and development organizations, which now work with the Bottomless Closet – New York. She was wearing a chic black pants suit, a crisp, lime green cotton shirt with a pointed collar, and polished black calf pumps. With a black quilted Chanel bag in hand, she looked as professional and successful as any businesswoman on Wall Street, and her delight as she stared in amazement in the mirror was obvious. “Oooh, look at me!” she exclaimed. “This is like being on a Jenny Jones makeover!”

Brooks was wearing the first of two outfits she would be given that day by the Bottomless Closet for upcoming interviews. Once she got a job–and there was no doubt in the minds of the volunteers that afternoon that she would–she would be invited to come back and pick out three more, head-to-toe outfits for her work wardrobe. After the clothes were chosen, the volunteer helping her, Reva Wurzburger, Board President and one of the founders of the Bottomless Closet in New York, would sit down with her and coach her on interviewing techniques.

The Bottomless Closet provides more than clothes, although no one in the organization underestimates the value of being well and appropriately dressed, resulting in both self-esteem for the client, and a successful first impression at the interview. The organization also offers career counseling before the interviews, and, on an ongoing basis, after a client lands the job.

“Getting the job is just the beginning,” says Sheila Lambert, Board Vice-President. “Then the women have to learn to deal with problems on the job, difficult bosses, child care situations, money issues, perhaps personal or family issues which were not resolved before they started work. We hold monthly career workshops designed to help women keep their jobs and advance in their careers.” Seminars include Goal Setting, Creating your Image, Communication Skills, Work Ethics, Managing your Money and Nutrition.

The Bottomless Closet also maintains a Helpline/Hotline, manned by Human Resource volunteers for two hours each workday evening so that the women can call and get immediate assistance in dealing with work-related problems.

The Bottomless Closest is linked nationwide with groups that help women transition from public assistance to economic self-sufficiency. An umbrella organization, the Women’s Alliance (www.womensalliance.org) numbers over 200 such independent organizations. The first Bottomless Closet was actually begun in Chicago by Laurel Baer (www.Bottomlesscloset.org). In 1999, Reva Wurzburger and Sheila Lambert, with four other founders, opened the doors to the Bottomless Closet-New York. It is independent of the Chicago group, but connected through the Women’s Alliance and, certainly, in spirit.

The New York operation, as the Chicago Bottomless Closet, and many of the Women’s Alliance groups, provide a total of five outfits for each client. This generosity is an enormous strain on the inventory. Clothing drives by informed companies, donations of both clothes and money by private individuals, corporate and foundation grants keep the organization running. Generous contributions of many fashion industry members such as Henri Bendel, Liz Claiborne, Macy*s by Mail, Maybelline, Nicole Miller and Nine West, to name only a few, also help to keep the Bottomless Closet stock room full. But there never seem to be enough clothes, especially in the larger sizes, 16 to 28.

The referral agencies, which work with the Bottomless Closet, include such diverse groups as the Federation Employment and Guidance Services (FEGS), Wildcat Services, the New York Urban League, Human Resources/Business Link and many others. Most of them offer training in computer and service skills, including financial, sought in today’s work world.

A number of the clients land jobs at such prestigious firms as Salomon Smith Barney, Chase Bank, McCann Erickson and Tiffany’s & Company. Being properly dressed and coached for interviews at such impressive organizations is of enormous help to the self-confidence of the women. And their chance of success in landing the jobs is enhanced immeasurably.

A recent letter from a grateful Bottomless Closest client says it all:

“Thank you for caring enough to help me look and act my best. When I went to my interview I felt so good about myself -I was confident that my appearance matched my abilities. Obviously the interviewer thought so too, because I got the job!”

If you would like to volunteer your time or make a donation to the Bottomless Closet, New York, please contact call Donna McGill, Executive Director at 212-563-2499 or Fax 212-563-2461.

About Adele Riepe

Adele Riepe was the Bonn Bureau Manager in Germany for The New York Times for 18 years and Special Projects Manager at New York Times headquarters in New York for four years.Working relationships with senior government officers, members of the media and diplomatic officials from around the world, living and working in different cultures, together with her previous fashion experience, have given her a unique insight into the importance of intercultural communications, protocol, and image.


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