Web Sites and Documents >> Hartford Courant News Articles >

Shop Gives Clients New Suits, Outlook

`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 the attention.

"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 up."

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 to you!"

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. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
Powered by Hartford Public Library  

Includes option to search related Hartford sites.

Advanced Search
Search Tips

Can't Find It? Have a Question?