Andrea Blassingame, 33, still recalls the outfit she got at The Career Wardrobe back in 2010. It was a skirt, a blazer and a blouse.
“I still have it to this day,” Blassingame said. “I’m a full figured woman, so outfitting me is a little bit hard, and I was discouraged when I was in there. The lady helped me find something that fit perfectly. I wore it in the interview, and because I looked so great, I had the confidence to get that position."
Six years later, Blassingame is still working – and she is a board member at The Career Wardrobe, a Philly-based non-profit that connects low-income women (and now men) with free or heavily discounted professional clothing out of their storefront at 19th and Spring Garden.
The Career Wardrobe, which also offers career preparation workshops, is now expanding into Bucks, Berks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties, after being chosen by Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration to run the PA WORKWEAR program throughout Southeast Pennsylvania.
“For me, who used to be a client, and now as a board member, it is really amazing, because I know now that others in the surrounding counties are going to benefit as I did,” Blassingame said. “I really am like a kid in a candy store with this expansion.”
Career Wardrobe executive director Sheri Cole said that with the expansion, they expect to up their clientele to 7,000 people – twice the 3,500 women they helped last year.
“When you get a great outfit and look great, you just hold yourself differently, you think differently. That’s the confidence you need to sell yourself in a job interview,” said Cole. “But it is only a win to me if that motivates her to stay with her job search.”
The Career Wardrobe has been expanding a great deal recently – first in their storefront, where they in recent months consolidated their administrative offices and classrooms above the store and opened up a new section with professional clothes now offered to men as well.
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The shifting of the PA Workwear grant for Philly exclusively to Career Wardrobe means another, similar nonprofit, Dress for Success, will be closing on Friday. Dress for Success’s board did not respond to a request for comment.
But as Career Wardrobe expands to Bucks and Delaware counties, they are relying on years of experience offering classes in skills like creating a LinkedIn page, writing resume, conflict resolution, and interviewing skills.
Cole said these skills combined with a new professional outfit are very helpful to their clients, most of whom are women in poverty and often single mothers.
“The clothing is the hook to getting women to focus on themselves,” she said. “When everything you have is going to your child, focusing on yourself and your needs is hard -- even though elevating mom elevates the whole family.”
Career Wardrobe sells heavily discounted clothing, 90 percent of which is donated by the public, to people who are unemployed, students, or receiving SNAP or Medicaid benefits. Clients referred by other agencies get an outfit and career counseling for free.
“It’s so discouraging to just keep hearing no in job interviews,” Cole said. “Anything we can do to keep them motivated is so important.”
For Blassingame, who said her positive experience with Career Wardrobe is still with her, expanding the operation means more people struggling to find work will find a pathway to success.
“I never lost that confidence. I'm with a different company now and I still have it,” she said. “That’s what we want for all our clients.”
Visit CareerWardrobe.org for information about the organization’s services and new locations.