Pulitzer-Prize winner Robin Givhan keynotes Suited for Change’s Suited for Spring annual luncheon.
By Jane Hess Collins
Denise Greene-Wood had been unemployed for 18 months. A veteran of the United States Army who served in Iraq and also a domestic violence survivor, Greene-Wood was desperately trying to raise two boys as a single mother. She lost confidence, gained weight and was diagnosed with diabetes.
Then she was referred to Suited for Change (SFC). On May 11, Greene-Wood told the packed Congressional Room at the Capital Hilton during SFC’s annual Suited for Spring luncheon how SFC and their expert suiter (volunteers who help select interview suits for SFC clients) helped her prepare for her current position with the AFL-CIO.
“I felt so good when I walked out of there. Having that one-on-one attention made all the difference in the world,” Greene-Wood said, adding that her suiter made sure she had the perfect outfit. Confident and proud, Greene-Wood has put her two sons through college and plans to graduate from the University of Maryland soon. Her diabetes is gone.
Part of the Catalogue for Philanthropy, Suited for Change prepares women to enter the workforce through teaching them life and workplace skills such as interview techniques, conflict resolution, responding to sexual harassment and asking for a raise. But, they are most known for their boutique of new and gently worn business clothing available to these women, and the highly trained volunteer “suiters” who help outfit them.
Now in its nineteenth year of moving women from unemployment to self-esteem, SFC has served over 18,000 women since first opening in 1992.
“We give women hope,” summarized SFC board president Barbara Camens. “You can’t get a job without an interview. And you can’t successfully have a job interview if you don’t have appropriate clothing to wear.” One in three families in the Washington, DC area lives in poverty, Camens said, and 75 percent of those families are headed by single women. Those women, Camens said, are the ones that SFC wants to reach.
The excitement grew among the well-dressed crowd as Robin Givhan took the podium. Givhan is the only fashion writer to ever win a Pulitzer Prize (which she won in 2006 while writing for the Washington Post Style section) and she is now the special correspondent for style and culture for Newsweek/The Daily Beast. Naturally, we all second-guessed our outfits. This was the woman who, after all, famously called out Michelle Obama for wearing shorts on vacation. What would she say to us?
With wit and humor, Givhan recalled that she first noticed the importance of dress when a college friend critiqued her for wearing a yellow suit to an interview. Yellow! That, she said, was her first insight into what clothes say about us, how we are perceived, what message we want to send, and the relationship we want to establish with those around us.
“Fashion matters because it brings us pleasure,” Givhan said. “It helps us feel good about ourselves, and that makes us more self assured and more confident. We are at our best.” Givhan admitted that using fashion as communication fascinated her the most “because it camouflages insecurities and it helps us swagger.”
“If fashion were not important, rock stars would be a lot more boring,” she added.
She closed her remarks with, “Fashion is a continuous social conversation. It can be a silent show of respect. A quiet assertion of power. It is both armor and security. It is not the substance of a resume, but it is the dazzling sheen.”
Speaking to Washington Life after her remarks, Givhan noted how much the fashion industry does for charity and the impact that a donated suit can make, saying, “People really care about how they are perceived. Women don’t necessarily recognize how much the stuff hiding in the back of their closet can really transform someone else’s life.”