Wednesday, 26 April 2017
The Dressing Well Blog
Mary Lou Andre

Donating with Respect

By Mary Lou Andre

Early in my career as a wardrobe consultant, I volunteered to help set up the clothing donations at a new shelter for homeless women that was opening in a town near where I lived. I secured a custom closet design company to donate the design and installation of a brand new closet for the facility and recruited several local Girl Scout troops to help sort, hang and fold all the clothes that were pouring into the shelter each day.

When the shelter opened, the “boutique”—as this donation center was affectionately dubbed—looked great, and I continued to volunteer my time helping the organization manage their clothing donations. Instead of the girl scouts, I was now working with the women who lived in the facility to help keep the boutique under control and in good working order.

When clothing would arrive that was pressed, cleaned and still in dry cleaning bags, the eyes of the women being served by the shelter would light up and they would instantly try things on and easily chat about a job interview or visit with one of their children. When dirty, wrinkled and stained clothes came in, the entire atmosphere changed. Not only did they not try items on, but also the conversation hardly shifted to anything other than the tough time they were going through in their lives.

As you go through your closet and ponder whether or not to give certain items to charity, ask yourself if you would feel comfortable wearing the items to a job interview or to court to attend a hearing about the fate of your children. I must admit that before I had this up-close-and-personal experience, I was often guilty of giving clothes to charity that were better off going elsewhere. I simply wasn’t aware of the potentially damaging impact my actions could have on the self-esteem of others.

Placing clothes in the right hands at the right time regardless of circumstance is still at the very core of everything we do today in our firm. I continue to carry this early experience with me and share it with our consultants during their training, with private clients when we are deciding what to donate from their closets, and with the diverse audiences with whom we share our dressing well message year in and year out. I salute these women I met long ago long ago for teaching me all I ever really needed to know about the true power of dressing well.

Editor’s Note: In celebration of our 25th anniversary on April 1, 2017, we are pleased to announce the launch of the Dressing Well Charitable Foundation – a 501(c)(3) charitable organization that will provide monetary support to other 501(c)(3) organizations, especially those that offer clothing, career support and social services to women, men and children in addition to encouraging self-sufficiency. Please visit the “Fashionable Giving” section of our website to learn more about the charities we support and why. While we will continue to support our non-profit friends by donating our time and talent (and, of course, clothes and accessories!), we are thrilled to help build awareness and even more support for their growth and stability. Please consider joining our efforts by donating to the Dressing Well Charitable Foundation. Thank you.

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About the Author

Mary Lou Andre

Mary Lou Andre is a nationally recognized wardrobe, dress code and corporate image consultant, speaker and author. She is founder and president of Organization By Design, Inc., a Needham, Massachusetts-based wardrobe management, fashion and image consulting firm that helps individuals and organizations understand the power of being appropriately dressed in a variety of situations.

Learn more about Mary Lou » 

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Maryellen 2017-04-27 10:23

Great post - thank you for raising awareness.

Mary Lou 2017-04-27 10:54

Thanks Mary Ellen. Important message for sure as there is also a real cost to the charities who need to deal with all the items that come in that they can't use. We have become disciplined about what we take to what place and when and help our clients do the same. We donate different things to different charities at different times of year as a way to help them manage the time, energy and money it takes to redistribute (and store) items on their end. Organizing donations on a rack, in a spare closet, or in bins before you donate is a good first step. I have noticed over the years that many people have a tendency to want to throw everything they don't want in a trash bag and then drop it somewhere. When we help clients think through the donation process more and come up with best practices that work for them and their families, its amazing how much better they feel about donating in general. Both donors and recipients are more empowered!

Nancy 2017-04-27 18:51

What a wonderful way to celebrate your business milestone! You and your organization are a class act. Thanks for the tips about how to donate in the best possible way.

Mary Andre 2017-04-28 08:25

Thank you for your kind words -- appreciate it!

Theresa Czarcinski 2017-04-28 05:53

I hope your foundation will support Second Chances ... they sort and then recycle all the less than ideal pieces of clothing.

Mary Andre 2017-04-28 08:30

Thanks, Theresa. Great to know about Second Chances. I just spent some time on their website. Love their commitment to recycling -- so important. Will certainly keep them in mind as we move forward.


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