A new volunteer service helps the unemployed dress for success.
It's hard to believe a bloke's job prospects could swivel on a broken zipper but ''Rodney'' learnt this vital life lesson recently when a snapped fly left him, as he so eloquently puts it: ''Trouserless, basically. Totally stuffed.'' Without the bottom half of his one and only suit, Rodney, 54, a soft-spoken, gentle man already down on his luck after a year of unemployment, couldn't dress properly for job interviews. ''So my employment service provider referred me here.''
''Here'' is Wear for Success, one of the most extraordinary fashion styling services this side of Hollywood. At its airy South Melbourne headquarters, the volunteer staff are as warm and nurturing as mother hens, the clean, fashionable clothes and shoes that are donated are neatly racked and stacked beside roomy styling suites.
The service is free, and the outcomes for more than 100 clients referred by agencies such as the Salvation Army, Jobco, White Lion and ACSO(Australian Community Support Organisation) since it opened in July, have been genuinely transformative.
''I left here feeling absolutely fantastic,'' says Rodney, trouserless no longer and slick as Brad Pitt in a slim dark charcoal suit, blue shirt and lemon silk polka dot tie.
''I was at my wit's end, but I've got a positive attitude now.'' He's already road-tested the suit for a telemarketing job interview organised by ACSO and says prospects are good. ''They say I'm a very strong contender.''
Shy retail worker ''Shandelle'', 30, has the same lofty hopes for her chic new red crepe dress, matching handbag and dagger-toe slingbacks.
''I felt useless, now I feel confident,'' she said after yesterday's styling session. ''This will show I'm serious, that I just love retail and customer service.''
The young woman whose wardrobe had shrunk to jeans and tops after 18 months out of work, appeared to blossom instantly. ''I've never had people fuss over me like this,'' she smiles shyly as volunteer stylists Jude Nicholls and Jenni Brickett did just that.
Wear for Success was established by a small, well-connected group of Melbourne women including Nicholls, Helen Shingler and arts philanthropist Bettie Kornhauser.
Kornhauser, particularly, is a renowned persuader, known for coaxing some of Melbourne's better-dressed women to ''empty out their cupboards'', as she puts it.
Consequently, the charity's regular fund-raising sales of excess clothing - including one this weekend - are also renowned for their peppering of silks, cashmeres and designer brands.
Wear for Success is affiliated with New York-based charity Dress for Success, established in 1996 to help disadvantaged women by styling them with good career-worthy clothes, but it is rare for also assisting men.
''I was sceptical about whether we could help men at first,'' admits one of Rodney's volunteer stylists, Sally Pollard.
''It's one of the hardest things a man can do; they don't like to be vulnerable. But we make it all very light, and you can see them change; the shoulders go back, they straighten up.''
Pollard is typical of the dozen or so women who donate an average one to two days a week to the hard slog of sorting, steaming, ironing, cleaning and racking clothes, as well as styling appointments for Wear for Success.
''But we desperately need more [volunteers] who could give us one day a fortnight,'' Kornhauser pleads.
''And more clothes, always more clothes. We have gaps for larger sizes for men especially, but women, too, and we need men's shoes, especially larger sizes.''
The governing criteria for donations, however, is very specific: ''They have to be a certain standard,'' says Kornhauser. ''Fairly fashionable and clean; something we would want to wear ourselves. Anything less would be disrespectful to our clients.''
Wear for Success is holding a sale of its excess clothing from 5-7pm on Friday, 10am-3pm Saturday and noon-3pm Sunday at 149 Dorcas Street, South Melbourne.