That ’Ole Little Black Dress Magic Raises Awareness To Invisible Poverty

By Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta

The week of November 14, the Junior League of Morristown (JLM), partnered with Dress for Success Morris County, and the ShopRite of Greater Morristown, and kicked off its Little Black Dress Initiative (LBDI).

League members throughout Morris County wore one black dress for five days to illustrate the effects poverty can have on a woman’s access to resources, confidence, and opportunities. They also wore a pin that read, “Ask Me About My Dress,” to spark conversation and spread awareness of the initiative and its objectives. Participants then had the option to donate their worn black dress to Dress for Success of Morris County at the end of the initiative.

Local dry cleaner, Cleaners Advantage, in Madison, offered its support by donating time to clean dresses.

This campaign was necessary because as of 2014, Morris County has 5,145 children living under the Federal Poverty Guideline – which is $24,300 for a family of four, according to New Jersey Kids Count from Advocates for Children of New Jersey; #ALICE Report from the United Way. And the fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Morris County is $1,280 per month. In order to afford this apartment, a household would need to earn more than $51,000 per year. At the NJ minimum wage of $7.25 an hour in 2014, that adds up to 135 hours per week – 52 weeks per year, according to Family Promise Morris County.

According to Mary Jean Barnes, executive director of Dress for Success, Morris County raised more than $12,000 from this campaign.

“We’re all about empowering women to get back to work,” said Barnes. “Economic self-sufficiency is our mission. We were very excited to be a part of it.”

Dress for Success, Morris County, is a not-for-profit organization. In addition to Morris, the organization serves women in nine other counties in Northern New Jersey: Bergen, Passaic, Essex, Somerset, Hunterdon, Sussex, Middlesex, Union, and Warren.

Dress for Success provides professional attire, free of charge, through its boutique and Mobile Program, to women who are returning or entering the workforce. A volunteer personal shopper assists and provides fashion advice, guidance, and support. All clients are invited back for a second visit for additional business-appropriate apparel.

In addition to fashion advice, there’s also career counseling. Clients can get personalized help from Career Center volunteers such as resume and cover letter writing, interviewing techniques, online job search/occupational research, career coaching and skill enhancement.

There are also professional women’s group monthly networking meetings that feature expert speakers on topics relating to professional and personal growth. Dinner and babysitting is provided free.

The Walmart Foundation presents a Going Places Network which offers a 12-session seminar that helps underemployed and unemployed women build their professional skills, accelerate their job search and build confidence in a supportive environment. Topics include: organizing a job search, creating a competitive resume, networking, building a social media career profile and developing strategies for success.

In 2015, more than 1,100 women were served with approximately 600 reached by the Mobile Program.

Dress for Success was referred to women by more than 100 local agencies including Homeless Solutions, Jersey Battered Women’s Service and Workforce NJ.

Each client receives services for an entire year, valued at $1,000. Dress for Success receives no government funding.

For more information, visit: or call 973-822-3188.

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