`Clothes Make Man' Helps Job Seekers Look Professional
February 22, 2005
By MELISSA PIONZIO, Courant Staff Writer
Once he stepped through
the doors of the Clothes Make the Man office, Hartford resident
Ronald Talley found himself in the hands of several fashion consultants
whose sole mission was to make him look good.
Amid the racks of multihued wool, linen and cotton suit jackets,
rows of trousers and shelves of leather shoes and belts, Talley
was measured, fitted and fussed over until he emerged sporting
a whole new professional look.
"I see a difference ... a taller me," said Talley
as he surveyed himself in the mirror dressed in a brown wool
suit, dress shirt and caramel-colored silk tie. "I'm broader,
more sure of myself."
Located at 40 Woodland St. in the city's Asylum Hill neighborhood,
Clothes Makes the Man is a 17-month-old program of Positive Momentum,
a Hartford-based nonprofit charitable organization. Its mission
is to help low-income men re-enter the workforce by providing
free clothing to wear on interviews or to work. Along with clothes,
clients receive a packet with tips on grooming, hygiene and etiquette
as well as job seeking advice and career development counseling.
"We help them to know how to deal with an interview, look
people in the eye, firm handshake, don't chew gum," said
public relations manager Ilona House. "Some of these men
are very needy; they may have been in jail for 10 or 15 years
and this is their chance to shine."
Like Talley, the organization's clients are referred by case
managers from other social service organizations such as Catholic
Family Services, Community Referral Team, Careers of Connecticut,
Department of Labor, Open Hearth, Hartford Behavioral Health
and many others. The clients, whose ages vary, must be actively
pursuing employment to obtain the clothing. Once employed, they
can come back and get another suit and if they keep the job for
a year, they are eligible for a third suit. The clients are not
just Hartford residents; they have traveled from as far as Enfield,
Middletown, Meriden and New Haven to obtain a suit.
"The guys, they kind of float out of here," said David
B. Eppner, executive director of the program. "They go out
feeling great; they have a new attitude."
Like professional saleswomen in a men's department store, volunteer
fashion consultants Sharelle Thornton and JoAnna McClendon fluttered
around Talley during his recent visit, seeing to all his professional
wardrobe needs. In response, Talley smiled shyly and drank in
"Ronald, do you have a favorite color? What do you think
you look good in?" Thornton asked as she browsed through
the racks of jackets. "You're going to look good!"
Thornton, who has volunteered for the agency for about a year,
said she enjoys helping the men create a new look. By talking
and joking together, she puts the clients at ease and helps them
understand that a tough persona is not necessary, especially
when interviewing for a job, she said.
"I grew up poor and I know what boosting someone's self-esteem
can do," said Thornton, who grew up in the city's former
Charter Oak housing development. "This world has for so
long ripped people apart and it's nice to help build them back
The clothing, some new, some
used, is donated from other community agencies and retailers
including Gifts of Love in Avon, Daswani and Sons Clothiers
in West Hartford, Lord & Taylor and Retail
Brand Alliance, which owns Casual Corner and Brooks Brothers.
Shoes are always in short supply, said Eppner, and although the
clothes fit Talley very well the day he visited, many of the
clients aren't always easy to outfit because they are big and
muscular. But regardless of their background, age or demeanor,
a nice suit can really transform a man, said Eppner.
"You're hiring a person, and a person who comes in dressed
up like this, first of all, looks good," said Eppner. "And
second, is taking the time to come in a dress up just to talk
In June, the organization will offer several fund-raising events,
including a golf tournament and silent auction; a Grilling Day
and an anniversary gala event with a fashion show and silent
auction in September.
For information, call 860-293-2909.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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