Empowerment Suit Nonprofit Sharp Dressed Man helps local men rebound with sartorial confidence.

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Jenny sizing James Hazeo for his suit.
Jenny sizing James Hazeo for his suit.

Three years ago, John Jones, recently discharged from prison after serving a 30-year sentence for murder, had lined up a job interview in his efforts to segue back into Baltimore’s working world. A dilemma: What to wear for the occasion? Through his participation in Living Classrooms Foundation, the Inner Harbor-based nonprofit that provides education and job training, Jones learned about Sharp Dressed Man, which offers free recycled suits to men re-entering the workforce after experiencing incarceration, homelessness or other life challenges.

“It was my first-ever suit,” says the 50-year-old Jones, who now works as a forklift instructor and case manager for Living Classrooms, while also volunteering at the nonprofit Sharp Dressed Man (SDM). “Wearing the suit made me stand up a little straighter. It made me feel like I belonged.”

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David Boone, volunteer.
David Boone, volunteer.

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Photographing the men with finished suit.
Photographing the men with finished suit.

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Jenny with clients.
Jenny with clients.

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[tie_slide] Sharp Dressed Man [/tie_slide]

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Jacket and ties.
Jacket and ties.

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Sharp Dressed Man began its mission in 2012, the joint effort of the Baltimore Fashion Alliance and Christopher Schafer Clothier. “A lot of these men have been told that they’re not worth it,” says SDM executive director Jenny Kessler Klump. “Here, they’re getting one-on-one attention. They’re actually being looked at in the eye. I see them stand up taller and leave here happy.”

Located downtown in a two-story building on Park Avenue, the boutique—with an orange couch by a window, a record player in a corner, its racks filled with donated, gently worn, high-end suits—pulses with clients each Wednesday between noon and 2 p.m.

“Some of the guys need suits for interviews, special events or because they’ve never owned one before,” says Dee Mendoza, a case manager in the adult resources department of Living Classrooms. “Coming here and getting a suit is a really fun note for them to end on after their program [at Living Classrooms].”

If Kessler Klump has her way, Sharp Dressed Man will ultimately expand its operation. “The first step is finding funding. We’re getting ready to launch a crowd-funding campaign,” she says.

As Kessler Klump walks through her boutique—checking in with clients, overseeing the inventory room upstairs—she drinks in all the positive energy. “Just being able to get these guys to smile and feel better about themselves,” she says, “that’s enough for me.”

At press time, the nonprofit suffered a serious fire. Visit sharpdressedman.org to help.

Published in the April 2016 issue of STYLE.

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