The secret to success

Dress for Success Morris County, New Jersey

“We are very selective with our clothing. Everything is clean, current and relevant.” Stefanie L. Conley, Executive Director, Dress for Success Morris County, New Jersey.

Stefanie L. Conley

Suzy, Volunteer Personal Shopper
Dress for Success Morris County, New Jersey

Tucked away in the basement of the Madison Community House is a gem called Dress for Success Morris County. Don’t let its size fool you; its mission is noble and its depth is far-reaching. This New Jersey chapter is just one of 100 Dress for Success affiliates, and the impact of this global non-profit organization now reaches twelve countries. What is the mission of Dress for Success? “To promote the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire, a network of support and career development tools to help women thrive in work and in life.” In other words, Dress for Success is here to assist women who have lived with severe hardship turn their lives around. Extraordinary.

I met with Stefanie L. Conley, Executive Director of Dress for Success Morris County. She said that the Dress for Success program is to “be there for women on their entire professional journey. It’s about helping women to regain their confidence. When they walk into the boutique they don’t see what we see – that they have so much to offer.” Stefanie also walked me through how the journey works as a three-step process:

Step One: The Suiting Program – A free-of-charge shopping experience where women are welcome to shop the boutique with the assistance of a volunteer personal shopper, and select attire that will earn them respect in the interview process. Each woman receives one hour of dedicated time and may choose one suit or business casual outfit, several separate pieces, two pairs of shoes, a handbag, two pieces of jewelry, and a coat and extras, including cosmetics, pantyhose, etc. Everything is donated from individuals and corporations and only top quality items are chosen for the boutiques.

Step Two: Monthly Networking Groups – An opportunity to network and be with other supportive women, including dinner (babysitting provided) with a keynote speaker.

Step Three – Career Center – One-on-one assistance in the areas of interview techniques, resume review, skill enhancement, job related internet searching and career coaching.

Beyond the shopping and the information and the coaching lies the magic behind Dress for Success: the transformation and building of self-esteem for women who need it most. Stefanie notes that you can actually see the the change: “When women come in to the boutique for the first time they are unsure and naturally wary.” Many have never had someone help them to feel their best selves. As a result of the personal attention they begin to believe in themselves and feel confident … the best part is that the kindness “comes full-circle; many women come back to mentor others and to help.”

Again, I say extraordinary! What do you think?

“You have to see this! …”

The New Yorker Magazine Cover
September 10, 2012

… said my neighbor Jean. I visited her this afternoon, which I do as much as I can. You know Jean by now – my 80-something friend and neighbor. We have shared many conversations about life and fashion – from tuxedos to handbags – and today’s topic was this cover of The New Yorker Magazine. Jean continued with this question: “Where is fashion going? Lately I have been feeling like the older woman in the illustration – out of step and befuddled.” Enough said. This image says it all.

What do you think?

Jodie in her own words …

Jodie, on the High Line, NYC, wearing one of her favorite outfits

I met Jodie Berlin Morrow in the early 1980s after I graduated college. I was taking a walk in my neighborhood with my mom (probably pondering my future) when we ran into Jodie. Because, for a brief and wonderful interlude in her life as a New Yorker, she lived in my town in New Jersey and became our neighbor and very special friend. Jodie eventually moved back to New York and we lost touch with her until a few years ago when we all reconnected. How happy my mom and I are to have Jodie back in our lives. She is a beautiful woman with the gift of bringing out the best in us. Stylish as always, she truly inspires me. But enough from me. Now, Jodie, in her own words …

I didn’t have any identifiable style until I was in my early 40s. Before that, I had worked in a school setting and in human resources, and I wasn’t that interested in fashion. A significant change happened when I became the owner of an antique store, and that is when I began to find out what I liked. It took leaving those earlier environments and becoming a buyer for my own store, responsible for choosing and selecting pieces that I liked, to change my style perspective. I would travel to do my buying and developed new relationships and friendships along the way. I soon fell in love with vintage. I began to wear Victorian Whites and I started to buy clothes that felt like me and that I absolutely loved …

About this time another important thing happened. My very dear friend, Nancy Schneider, had a store in the city called Nancy and Company. Nancy has an eye for style and she had great clothes with detail and beautiful edges and brands that suited me. I began to work there on Saturdays and it opened my eyes to a whole new way of dressing. Nancy and Company is now located in East Hampton …

I have no wish to be elegant. I have a wish to be dramatic and downtown …

I like costumes! …

My style is still a bit vintage and feminine. I love soft fabrics but I don’t wear many prints. I also love military influences. I wear very little color. I wear black and white; white pants in the summer and black in the winter – tight black pants. The look of a black jacket has become my signature. I love to wear jeans with boots and I also love to wear hats, like the purple hat in the photo; I feel perky when I wear them …

When I love something – I wear it all the time. I don’t buy a lot of clothes, but I will buy two of something I love. That came from my husband, Bruce. He suggested that when I love something, I buy two of the same thing. And I don’t mind if someone has seen me in it …

I only have black handbags but I would like a red one. I am ready for a red one. Every time I come out of a mammogram and the news is good, I splurge on a great black handbag. It has become a celebration of my life and an investment for my future …

I don’t dress that much differently now than I did when I was younger, except that now I wear more jewelry. I’ve become a bracelet person! …

I love when I hear someone say, ‘that looks like you!’ It makes me feel special that they recognize my individual style.”

~ Jodie Berlin Morrow, Ph.D.

Getting in at the beginning


Getting in at the beginning …
My vintage Kate Spade floral handbag

In the mid 1990’s I bought two handbags from new designer, Kate Spade.The first was a brown nylon diaper bag for my baby, and the other was a whimsical, floral straw handbag, perfect for spring and summer. I had seen the original square handbags with her classic, American name sewn on the outside; they were fresh, simple, chic, and ultra-sophisticated. And when I discovered she had designed matching diaper bag totes, I was hooked!

After both my babies outgrew the need for diaper bags, I passed on the tote to another new mother, but my floral handbag is here to stay! I absolutely love it. It is unlike any other handbag and is completely fun. I feel like my best self whenever I wear it.

Thank you, Kate Spade. I am happy to have one of your first and I look forward to more …

What do you think?


Memorial Day weekend officially kicks off summer and what says summer more than fresh berries? Ripe strawberries are my favorites and this Sunday I bought a pint at the local farmer’s market. Of course, I was wearing my strawberry crossover bag at the time. So good I could eat them up – just remember which is which!

What do you think?