Poor women can’t dress for success, says fashion guru

Jane Shepherdson, patron of Smart Works, which helps women dress for the job
Jane Shepherdson, patron of Smart Works, which helps women dress for the job
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Finding the right clothes to make a good impression at a job interview is beyond the means of many women, a fashion expert has warned.

Jane Shepherdson, CBE, former brand director of Topshop and chief executive of Whistles, has also admitted the issue of what to wear is much more difficult and expensive for women than for men.

Shepherdson is national patron of Smart Works, the UK-wide charity providing unemployed and vulnerable women with interview clothes, styling advice and one-to-one interview training.

Speaking on her first visit to Scotland at a Street Works Edinburgh event, Shepherdson said: “Any woman, particularly if they’ve not got much money because they’re unemployed, wants to know what they should be wearing to an interview, what’s acceptable this season and how to wear it.

“Men can get off with wearing the same suit to all interviews, but women are judged differently.

“There’s a lot of difficult choices. Wearing a suit for a woman is ‘power dressing’ and sends out a message she may not be aiming for. It’s also expensive to try to dress smartly for different seasons.

“Those first few seconds when she is scanned up and down after entering the room is when her future employers are thinking ‘is she one of us? Is she confident?’”

Shepherdson added the problems with Universal Credit had made the dilemma worse for women looking for a job, adding: “With women trying to feed their families, clothes seem like a luxury.”

Smart Works, which has the Duchess of Sussex as its royal patron, is a charity which offers women referred to them a guaranteed job interview or one-year apprenticeship, a session with a stylist to choose items from a range of high-quality clothing, including donations from companies such as Burberry and Marks & Spencer, as well as items from local businesses and the public.

Make-up sessions are also offered by cosmetics firm Bobbi Brown.

If a woman gets a job, she is then offered a “capsule wardrobe” to see her through to her first pay cheque.

Since it opened in 2014, Smart Works has supported more than 13,000 women back to work across the UK.

In 2018, Smart Works Edinburgh helped 232 women in Scotland, and 70 per cent of the women they supported got the job.

Margaret, 46, from Edinburgh, who had applied for a variety of jobs in the health sector after being made redundant, was referred to Smart Works by her Job Centre work coach.

“The clothes really did help, feeling like you were dressed appropriately was like having a suit of armour on,’ she said.

“When I came in, the dressing volunteers said to me ‘just treat this like a personal shopping experience’ and that was exactly what it was like.

“They picked out a beautiful dress and jacket, handbag, shoes, tights and make-up. I didn’t have to worry about a thing.”

Margaret said the interview training was particularly effective.

“The interview coach gave me advice on confidence, body language and being myself.

“This is the beginning of the new me. I want to make the most of myself rather than walking around apologising for my existence, because that is what unemployment does to you.”