In recent years many corporations have relaxed their dress codes, even explicitly declaring “Casual Fridays,” where more laid-back attire is de rigueur. And professional women, who initially felt they needed to dress like males, in suits, now consider an attractive dress to be appropriate business wear.

Appropriate business attire is the mission of Dress for Success, founded in 1997 to provide women with professional attire and career training. The non-profit organization has locations in the United States, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Mexico, Poland, and the West Indies. The Mercer County Dress for Success location, based at 3131 Princeton Pike, in January named Lorrie Klaric as its new executive director.

Dress for Success, with the mission of promoting economic independence for disadvantaged women, looks like a mini-boutique of suits, blouses, shoes, scarves, and jewelry where disadvantaged women of all shapes and sizes can put together an ensemble to wear to a job interview or a job fair. The organization is supported through charitable donations.

When she came on the job, Klaric went through Dress for Success’s personal shopper training, as do all her volunteers. “It is a real one-on-one type of environment,” she says. Each woman who comes in the door, many of whom have not worked for years or come from a different home environment, are matched up with a personal shopper.

These volunteers know just how to connect with their clients. “They talk about different styles, and the way to convey that professional image,” says Klaric. Often the transformation is amazing. Klaric says, “I have seen women come in looking downtrodden and not terribly enthusiastic and seen them walking out of the door with their heads held high — with that ‘I feel great, I look great, and I’m going to conquer the world’ look on their faces.”

Currently women are suited only two days a week and occasional Saturdays, but the organization is looking to increase its hours.

Klaric grew up in Colts Neck. Her father was a mechanical engineer with Western Electric and also owned Har Lee Rod, a small manufacturing company in Jersey City started by Klaric’s grandfather. Her brother runs the business today, which sells fishing equipment but no longer manufactures it. Klaric has lived in Newtown, Pennsylvania, for 29 years.

After graduating from Villanova University with a bachelor of arts in psychology and then a master of arts in liberal studies, Klaric spent 16 years in customer service and cost accounting with Dunmore Corporation, a Newtown manufacturer.

She then moved to the Girl Scouts where she served as a vice president of member services and director of adult development. In 2009 she received a certificate in executive leadership from the Nonprofit Executive Leadership Institute at Bryn Mawr College.

After six years with the Girl Scouts, she became corporate program director at Wesley Enhanced Living, a group of non-profit retirement communities in the Philadelphia area, working with staff at the different communities to ensure that high-level, uniform programs were delivered to all communities and all levels of care.

Looking to the future, Klaric says, “We have far more women to serve and need to communicate our message so people know about us and can learn about our programs.” Once all her current programs are on a sure footing, she would like to bring in the national Dress for Success’s financial empowerment program.

Describing the role of her agency within the circle of partners that refer her clients, Klaric says, “We are helping them get tools that they might otherwise not even know about. To be able to think bigger and broader about what they might be able to do can be the key to their success. There is a cycle of poverty that somehow has to be broken for the community to thrive.”

In addition to its clothing services, the organization has a professional women’s group that provides networking and mutual support for clients who are now working but who, says Klaric, “are not accustomed to having that professional group of cheerleaders who can support each other.”

The group’s monthly meetings, attended by about 20 women and led by volunteer professional women, include a wide array of professional workshops and skill-building activities.

For those seeking employment, first impressions can make the difference between success and failure. Klaric offers dressing tips for those going out on job interviews:

Dress conservatively. “Keep your styles classic; fashion trends are more for your social life than your business life,” says Klaric. For both men and women, this means conservative darker suits and no flashy colors. “Keep your professional appearance looking very business-like,” she says.

A simple, understated scarf or piece of jewelry — nothing flamboyant or extravagant — is also appropriate. “You can wear a dark suit but put a personal signature on it — a pretty pin or a scarf with a color you feel good in,” says Klaric. Men should have on a tie and wear a clean shirt.

Create a positive first impression. Whatever job you’re applying for, first impressions are essential. “It doesn’t matter if you are applying for a professional-level or entry-level position — such as a cashier, a job in a grocery store, or a job in a professional office — if you’re going into an interview, you want to demonstrate, ‘I’m here because I’m qualified; I am ready to go; and I have the skills for the job you are hiring me for,” she says, adding that it is never inappropriate to dress professionally for a job interview. “That first impression when you walk through the door can say a lot about how serious you are,” she says.

Take care with shoes. Shoes should be polished, but also conservative. Women should stay away from very high heels and make sure they can walk through the door comfortably and easily.

Ensure perfect grooming. Hair should be nicely styled and fingernails clean. Do not overdo the perfume and aftershave, because that is also part of the impression being projected. Klaric suggests that men should be clean shaven.

Stand up straight. “Have a posture and a handshake that show you are a competent prospective employee who is going to do the job well,” says Klaric.

Be well prepared with knowledge about job, company, and organizational culture. “Doing research in advance is going to make you feel prepared to answer those questions, and you are going to automatically exude confidence,” says Klaric.

Leave behind your cell phone. “An interview that is interrupted by a cell phone or any other electronic device illustrates that you are not bringing your full attention to the job interview,” says Klaric. “That’s certainly not the message you wish to convey to a potential employer.”

Dress for Success’s career center, launched in the fall of 2011, supports women through one-on-one mentorship that ideally begins when a woman comes in for the suiting program.

Says Klaric, “The process of navigating through the way you look for work today is a daunting task for anybody, but disadvantaged women are the least likely to have technological resources available or even to know where to begin.”

The career center mentor helps clients with resume preparation, mock interviewing, and career counseling. “We want to give them the tools so they can look good and communicate in an appropriate way so they can get the job,” says Klaric. “It’s another way for us to build confidence.” The career center recently had its first male client.

Klaric emphasizes that the clients who come to her are job ready, and either have a job interview scheduled or will be attending a job fair. “That is one of the misconceptions about what we do,” she says. “They are not just coming in and getting clothes. We are part of that career counseling process.” In fact, their clients are referred from about 40 partner agencies.

Dress for Success Mercer County, 3131 Princeton Pike, Suite 112, Lawrenceville 08648; 609-896-4112; fax, 609-896-5838. Lorrie Klaric, executive director.

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