The “little black dress” is often regarded as a staple of a woman’s wardrobe.
It can be worn to work, for a night out, to a social event.
But it also can stand as a symbol of need, and used as a way to raise funds, which underlies this month’s Little Black Dress Initiative by the Junior League of Harrisburg, an organization for community-minded women.
Organizers Rebecca Taylor and Rachel Jones explained that, while it’s named after the iconic dress, the initiative has little to do with fashion forwardness.
Different from the typical, brief 5K fundraiser or cost-prohibitive gala, the initiative involves participants wearing the same little black dress or outfit for five days straight while seeking funds to support the Junior League’s many community programs. Some don a pin that says, “Ask me about my dress.”
“It’s about the resources you need, that you might not have, to feel good about what you are doing—confidence to have the right attire,” said Jones, chair of the initiative. “Regardless of the type of position you have, you want to look good when you go to work. It gives you confidence, and that confidence propels you forward.”
Taylor, JLH’s president, participated last year.
“It served its purpose, because I found, as I was going through my daily routine, I was starting to realize the things that I take for granted every day,” she said. “I went to the dentist and filled a prescription. I didn’t have to worry about being able to afford the dentist. I didn’t have to worry about transportation to get my prescription from the pharmacy. I just take those things for granted, that I will be able to go and do them.”
Jones had a similar experience, but hers focused more on the challenges of relying on a single outfit all week.
“I had to come up with creative ways to keep my dress looking fresh,” she said.
She found some help in products like Febreze and Shout Wipes. Naturally, she could have taken her dress to the dry cleaner to be freshened up, but didn’t.
“Most of the community we are advocating for can’t do that,” she said.
As a physician recruiter for a local health system, Jones had to look professional daily and took special care to be more delicate with her clothing, especially during lunch, knowing that this was her outfit for the entire workweek.
Taylor explained that the fundraiser also offers an opportunity for conversation.
“When you show up to work or wherever you go every day for five days [wearing the same outfit], people start asking you why,” she said.
Participants love getting that question, because it gives them the opportunity to talk about the work of the Junior League. The group’s focus this year is “providing self-sufficiency skills to at-risk youth in the Harrisburg area,” said Taylor.
This is a new focus for JLH, which continually changes with the times to meet the evolving needs of the community.
“We need to make sure we are providing an impactful service and not just doing something because it makes the members feel good,” Taylor said.
Community partners have identified areas where JLH can “fill in the gap” of services for youth. These include implementing training in leadership, interviewing skills, budgeting, eating on a budget and the like.
The Junior League also is focused on building relationships within the community.
In March, JLH hosted “Prom Possible” at Boys and Girls Club of Harrisburg, a “pop-up boutique” where prom-aged students could purchase a prom dress and accessories at little or no cost. The league also hosted informational booths about topics such as peer pressure and drinking and driving.
Last year, the Little Black Dress initiative raised just under $15,000, exceeding its $7,500 goal. Most of the donations came in small amounts, under $25. This year, the goal is $11,000. Each participant has her own website, where she is encouraged to post about the week’s experience. Social media is a key component of the campaign, and participants use it to raise awareness and funds.
Anyone can join in, and participants will be invited to a launch event where they will receive information about the initiative, direction on creating their online presence and advice on managing a week in one dress.
“All of our members wearing the same dress for the whole week is not only a conversation piece but a symbol of solidarity within the league,” Jones said. “It shows that we are all in this together. We’re all in it to help the community.”
So, don’t hesitate to ask if you see a co-worker wearing the same outfit during the week of April 24. She wants to tell you about her little black dress.
Junior League of Harrisburg’s Little Black Dress Initiative runs April 24 to 28. For more information or to donate, visit www.jl-hbg.com.