Landing a new job can be daunting. But one Baltimore nonprofit wants to ensure that even if job applicants don’t have the money to afford a new suit, they are still able to feel confident showing up to that interview.
Behind the door of Sharp Dressed Man in Baltimore, Maryland, is a flurry of activity. In the midst of shouted-out measurements and booming laughter, you’ll find tailor Christopher Schafer.
“The relationship with a tailor and a client is, phew, it’s kind of like a psychiatrist, it’s like a barber, you know, any of those things. Which I love,” said Schafer.
As a tailor, Schafer creates custom suits for men for a living. His clients would occasionally bring in their old suits, and he realized he could address two needs at once.
“I saw that people had clothes that they didn’t need anymore, and I saw that people needed the clothes,” said Schafer.
He started Sharp Dressed Man a decade ago. The nonprofit provides free donated suits for men who need professional dress wear but may not be able to afford it.
“The population of demographics that we’re serving are primarily men that are returning to the workforce from incarceration. They’re in re-entry programs, workforce programs,” said executive director Elisa Wells.
Unlike many other clothing donation organizations, Schafer wanted to create a one-on-one experience at Sharp Dressed Man. Men who come into the shop are individually taken to the back to be measured and fitted. The organization is referral-based, so they partner with local agencies and supporting organizations to find clients.
“There’s a great need for it. I’m a living example of it,” said John Jones. “Ten years ago, I walked into this place in jeans and a sweatshirt. And they took a before picture and an after picture. From that point on, I’ve never looked back.”
Jones received a suit from Sharp Dressed Man after returning home from 30 years in prison. He used the suit to land a job, where he still works today. He now volunteers at the nonprofit and mentors men coming through the program, like Walter Alston, who just served 22 years in prison. This will be the first suit he’s ever owned.
“This is giving me the opportunity to really do something with my life instead of being on the streets. I’d rather do this,” said Alston.
For those who have been incarcerated for a long time, this is often a big moment.
“We’re giving these individuals options, choices, where they may have previously not had many options or choices, or even the opportunity to wear a suit,” said Wells.
“I feel like a new man,” said Alston.
But it’s not just about the clothing.
“The suit can wear out and get torn up and be gone. We want to create something that will last forever, and that’s what Sharp Dressed Man is doing,” said Jones. “It’s creating that atmosphere and mindset that they can carry on to different things, whether they have the suit on or not.”
Wells pointed out the need for continued donations. She said it’s especially helpful to receive items like cufflinks, pocket squares and shoes.
“Those are the little details that a lot of folks don’t generally tend to think about but really put the cherry on top of the whole ensemble,” Wells added.
The nonprofit is growing and looking to the future. During the pandemic, they relocated to the Impact Village, run by MAG partners, which gives rental space to nonprofits for free. Eliminating that expense has allowed them to expand the operation to include a mobile van, which they hope to launch in the spring.
“The idea is we can take this show on the road, and I think that’s going to help even more people,” added Schafer. “I’d like to see this being done all over the world.”
Sharp Dressed Man’s donation portal can be found here.