Dress for Success is one of those successful ideas based on a very simple concept. The service supplies outfits for women in economically difficult circumstances who are searching for work. It is a simple but effective way to bring about change.

Eseta Nicholls is walking, talking proof that Dress for Success can make a huge difference for women trying to transition back into the workforce.

"They helped me believe in myself again," she declares. "People with low self esteem are not used to even looking in a mirror, let alone actively trying to look good."

Eseta spent 10 years out of the workforce caring for her ill husband Willie and their three sons before Willie passed away in 2006. After six months passed, she did a course in mental health support and found a job she could apply for - but the step back into employment felt incredibly difficult.

"How do you attend an interview when your confidence is zilch and you've got nothing to wear?"

Despite these feelings she was rather reluctant when referred by WINZ to Dress for Success.

"I had gained heaps of weight and felt totally out of my comfort zone going to look for an outfit with strangers."

However, Eseta slowly warmed to the friendliness and kindness of her volunteer dresser. She filled out a form, including information about the job and her sizing and was given some clothes to try on. By the time she'd tried on the third garment she was able to look at herself directly in the mirror, despite still feeling peculiar in tailored clothing, rather than her usual baggy clothes.

"I started thinking, 'Yes, I really like how I am looking'. When I left I was grinning from ear to ear."

She ended up with a five pieces, plus makeup, jewellery, shoes and a handbag; most of which she still uses.

Suffice to say, Eseta got the job and stayed two years before moving to her current role as a Counties Manukau mental health research worker. In September, she was invited to be the client representative on Dress for Success Auckland's board. "I wanted to give back. I like how the focus is not just on clothing, but on building up women's self esteem so they can start believing in themselves again." One of her tasks on the board is to put together a policy for

Maori women clients. Another is to encourage Maori women to volunteer for the service.

Cathy Andrews is another woman who praises Dress for Success to the hilt.

I hope the Dress for Success donors realise just how much people like me appreciate it. "I hope the Dress for Success donors realise just how much people like me appreciate it. When I left Dress for Success I felt my dignity had been restored and that I was a worthy person."

She says she tried about 25 things on before choosing a suit combination handbag and shoes. She was also given makeup and jewellery.

Cathy was made redundant from her media job in December 2008. She spent a dismaying 10 months looking for full-time work, while on the DPB and working part time as a caregiver, running a pre and after-school programme and cleaning houses.

"I'd been to umpteen interviews and my self-esteem was down the toilet. I was having counselling because I wasn't coping."

Although she didn't get the job she was dressed for by Dress for Success, the experience boosted her confidence and, after weeks of cold calling, Cathy landed a job selling Big FM media advertising. She delightedly returned to Dress for Success for her second dressing; offered to women who win jobs to help them through their initial weeks.

Once again, Cathy says she was blown away.

"As well as clothes, I was given more makeup and a free hair-do voucher. It is such a good service."

Dress for Success Auckland executive manager Julie Mackey says she has 96 volunteers; 80 are personal dressers. The others help with merchandising, fundraising and administration. Ten were initially clients. All dresser volunteers do an induction session, and are then teamed with experienced dressers who guide them further.

Julie says dressing requires more than a good eye; it also requires the ability to make a diverse range of women feel comfortable and have a good experience.

Claire Donaldson, Dress for Success volunteer and programme co-ordinator, says many of the women have never had money to experiment with clothing styles or colours.

"When they see themselves in an outfit with shape and colour, they are often overwhelmed."

It is interesting to observe women coming to grips with the importance of first impressions as they walk into the interview, she adds.

"Sadly employers are time-poor and want an applicant to be a solution to a problem.

"If you don't make the grade visually, you can quickly end up on the back foot."

The dressing process usually takes an hour, says Julie. The dressing area is packed with racks of extremely attractive dresses, skirts, trousers, jackets and tops lined up according to size and colour. There are also shoes, bags, costume jewellery, belts and scarves. Although all racks have a good range of clothing, the leanest pickings are in the larger sizes, says Julie.

"We're always looking for larger-size clothing and shoes and often use cash donations to top up this area."

The outfit is then completed by makeup foundation samples donated by Radiessence.

"The makeup is great because it gives a professional finished look; it is the icing on the cake and something that is usually too expensive when someone is budgeting," says Julie, adding that Radiessence is a regular donator of makeup and cash to all five Dress for Success affiliates.

The service is very reliant on such donors. Maxwell Drycleaners is a drop-off point for donations, but also provides free drycleaning of donated clothes. Individual women donate clothes. Organisations run "Clean Out Your Closet" days for Dress for Success. Some fashion companies donate end-of-season clothing.

Next door to the dressing area is the sorting room where volunteers sort and organise the clothing. Some take away clothing to repair, wash and iron. The area exudes a sense of industry and of hope.

Dress for Success has assisted more than 9000 women in Auckland since 1999, with 60 per cent winning jobs. Last year the service dressed 1200 women of which 200 returned for second dressings. The service is for women who are economically disadvantaged and need appropriate clothing to start work experience or job searching. They must be referred by Work and Income New Zealand (WINZ), Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), training providers, Auckland Chamber of Commerce or specific community groups. Northland, Hamilton, Wellington and Christchurch also have a Dress for Success service.

Win Radiessence e-vouchers

A New Zealand cosmetics company is putting its money where its heart is and helping women make the transition back into the workforce easier by donating makeup, interview attire and accessories.

In conjunction with the New Zealand Herald, Radiessence is giving away e-vouchers for 20 beauty packs.

Each pack includes a bronzer and foundation valued at $90 RRP.

Bernadette Soares, managing director of Brand Value, the company that owns Radiessence, says they want to give women returning to the workforce a helping hand.

Radiessence Invisible Finish is a quality foundation that improves the appearance of skin, giving it a flawless complexion, and is practical for summer with its SPF 30 sunscreen. The mineral bronzers are multi-award-winning and give the skin an incredible "no makeup" look.

"Both products are the perfect complement to the professional clothes Dress for Success provides," says Soares.

Win: To be in to win the Radiessence product, write your name and email address on the back of an envelope and send in to Dress for Success Radiessence giveaway, c/o careers editor, New Zealand Herald, PO Box 32, Auckland. Winners will be emailed an e-voucher with instructions on how to redeem it.