Merlene Davis: Helping women dress for success is goal of new group

Jennifer Monarch, left, and Analisa Wagoner are already receiving items for Lexington's affiliate of Dressed for Success. Photo by Merlene Davis | Staff
Jennifer Monarch, left, and Analisa Wagoner are already receiving items for Lexington's affiliate of Dressed for Success. Photo by Merlene Davis | Staff Lexington Herald-Leader

For months, Jennifer Monarch and Analisa Wagoner have been dotting i's and crossing t's, trying to take their vision from a near-consuming desire to reality.

The two women wanted to start an affiliate of Dress for Success in Lexington.

Dress for Success in a nonprofit organization that has 128 affiliates worldwide, with volunteers helping disadvantaged women move from poverty to self-sufficiency by preparing them for a job interview and dressing them appropriately.

"The application process was very detailed and comprehensive," Monarch said. "The last thing they want to do is lend their name to a startup and realize down the road it isn't a good match."

On March 20, they received word their application was accepted.

"It feels like we just had a baby," Wagoner said.

Since announcing the new organization on April 2, the women have been overwhelmed by the response from women wanting to donate business attire and accessories.

Monarch has warned her husband that their spare bedroom will soon be transformed into storage space and probably their garage as well. You see, in addition to the response from local women, the Dress for Success affiliate in Louisville will be donating about 50 bags of items to help the organization get started.

The women also need additional storage space, hangers, clothing racks, shoe and jewelry display cases or shelves. They need space that is big enough to house a computer area so women can write résumés, dressing rooms to try on clothes, a consulting area and an office.

But Dress for Success is not just about clothing.

"It starts with clothing," Monarch said, "but it is about putting together a total professional package. Once we are established we can start a professional women's group. We will keep up with them and put them with other women and ourselves to help them to continually improve. We don't let go."

Dress for Success, which began in 1997, targets women who have completed job training programs offered by other nonprofits. About 650,000 women nationally and internationally have been helped, raising the financial stability of not only their families, but also the communities where they live.

A similar program, Suited for Success, was started in 1993 by a group of civic-minded women with space provided by Calvary Baptist Church in Lexington. After a few years, it became a part of the Community Action Council. A couple of years ago it was dissolved.

When Wagoner returned to Lexington 10 years ago to work in the Thoroughbred industry, she didn't need the business attire she had created in her former career as an education and training manager, but didn't know of a good place to donate her items.

After leaving that industry and starting work at Gallery B, she knew she had to get something going.

Familiar with Dress for Success while living in Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, Wagoner learned the organization wanted to get started in Lexington.

Wagoner had been working with the Jobs for Life program at the Lexington Rescue Mission because she knew some of those people could use her knowledge of the professional business world , she said.

She envisions the women they serve may have navigated through a drug rehabilitation program, or have emerged from a domestic violence situation or been in the court system.

"It is amazing the transformation you see in these women," Wagoner said of her experience with Jobs for Life. "Their posture is better, their presentation and attitudes change."

Monarch agreed. "We want to put them on an equal footing," she said. "We are about finding a way to help you present yourself and to tactfully address issues that come up in an interview. We are about breaking down barriers."

But they need our help as well.

If you have suits, dresses, blouses, slacks, shoes and other accessories to donate that will give a disadvantaged woman a leg up in an interview or on the job, Monarch and Wagoner are more than willing to accept your gift. They'll also take money to help get the organization off the ground.

But more than anything, they need volunteers to help set up, tear down, unpack, store and pick up donations. They are also seeking board members.

The women are hosting a Dress for Success Lexington Startup Meeting on May 9. Everyone is welcome.

"This is our call to action," Wagoner said. "We need help."

Monarch estimates that the first consultation won't take place for about four months, after appropriate space is found.

"We are going to have a big ribbon-cutting ceremony," she said. "In order for this to be a success, it has to be a community effort. We are reaching out to the community."


What: Dress for Success Lexington startup meeting

When: 6:30-8 p.m., May 9

Where: Lexington Central Library, 140 E. Main St., Room A

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