Sharp Dressed Man gives tailored suits to those in need

Ann Hermes/Staff
Kenneth Wood (r.) searches for a suit at the nonprofit Sharp Dressed Man with the help of volunteer Jimmy Carmichael.

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Since 2011, Sharp Dressed Man has been helping men improve their lives by equipping them for job interviews and other occasions with well-fitting suits and accessories. This isn’t a “grab any jacket off the rack” kind of experience; rather, the nonprofit provides a measure-to-fit, personalized styling experience. The nonprofit was founded by clothing designer Christopher Schafer, who sought to give those in need an experience more like a visit to his custom clothing shop than stopping at a warehouse that has donated suits. “I believe we have dressed about 7,000 people,” Schafer says. Today, the nonprofit operates in Baltimore as well as Los Angeles, owing to a recent expansion. Schafer sees the nonprofit as bridging the gap between job training and the look required for a person to land a job. That can mean anything from helping to suit a job applicant who has just been released from prison to assisting a homeless veteran. “There is a difference between a hand up and a handout. What we are trying to do is a hand up,” he says. “If you treat a guy with dignity, he has a better chance of treating himself with dignity.”

Why We Wrote This

Self-presentation can make all the difference in life – especially during formal occasions like job interviews. That's why Christopher Schafer has made it his mission to help men in need find the perfect suit.

On a frigid December afternoon, Tyler Freburger is standing in front of a set of mirrors wearing a suit picked out for him by a tailor. He sorely needs the attire for a funeral later in the week.

A homeless veteran living in Baltimore, Mr. Freburger would usually have difficulty securing such an outfit, especially one selected for him personally. But in this instance, he was referred to the nonprofit Sharp Dressed Man

Since 2011, the organization has been helping men improve their lives by equipping them for job interviews and other occasions with well-fitting suits and accessories. This isn’t a “grab any jacket off the rack” kind of experience; rather, the nonprofit provides a measure-to-fit, personalized styling experience.

Why We Wrote This

Self-presentation can make all the difference in life – especially during formal occasions like job interviews. That's why Christopher Schafer has made it his mission to help men in need find the perfect suit.

“It’s a blessing that they are here,” says Freburger, who notes that the organization has treated him well and has been working to supply what he needs – something he is not accustomed to in his daily life. “It’s really nice that they provide suits to people who need them.”

The nonprofit was founded by clothing designer Christopher Schafer, who sought to give those in need an experience more like a visit to his custom clothing shop than stopping at a warehouse that has donated suits.

Ann Hermes/Staff
Clothier Christopher Schafer established Sharp Dressed Man to give men in need a measure-to-fit, personalized styling experience.

“When you walk them through the process and you educate them and you ask them what it is that they like, it really makes the clothing theirs,” Mr. Schafer says. “We give them the clothes, but we want it to be clothing that they feel good in; when you feel good, you look good.”

Schafer has been designing clothes for more than a decade. And he opened a shop in downtown Baltimore not long after returning from London, where he lived for a time and learned about the art of measuring and design. When Schafer was delivering some custom suits to a client, he was handed two bags of gently worn suits in return. [Editor's note: This paragraph was inadvertently deleted from the original version of the story.]

“He said I spoiled him with how I made his custom suits fit, and he couldn’t wear his old suits anymore,” Schafer says. “They were still very nice, and he didn’t know where to take them.”

Schafer found a nonprofit that would accept the suits and put them to good use, but as time went on, more of his clients did the same thing. At the suggestion of a friend, he decided to launch his own nonprofit, Sharp Dressed Man. 

The organization’s space resembles a traditional men’s clothing store, complete with volunteer tailors with tape measures around their necks, and racks upon racks of clothing. It’s open one day a week for those who have been referred.

“Since those two bags of clothes, I believe we have dressed about 7,000 people,” Schafer says. Today, the nonprofit operates in Baltimore as well as Los Angeles, owing to a recent expansion. It focuses on providing suits and dress clothing just to men, which Schafer has identified as a particular need.

Schafer sees the nonprofit as bridging the gap between job training and the look required for a person to land a job. 

“There is a difference between a hand up and a handout. What we are trying to do is a hand up,” he says. “If you treat a guy with dignity, he has a better chance of treating himself with dignity.”

That can mean anything from helping to suit a job applicant who has just been released from prison to assisting a retiree like Clarence Green.

“It is a great service, especially for the people who don’t have much,” says Mr. Green after his fitting for a sport coat. “It helps people to present very well.”

Schafer reflects on the transformations he’s witnessed. “It is really powerful when you see guys when they are suited up and they are kind of glowing,” he says.

Ann Hermes/Staff
Edward Herring gets a haircut from volunteer barber Pablo Eberle at a December event at Sharp Dressed Man.

Since its inception, Schafer says, Sharp Dressed Man has operated with the support of committed volunteers and on a “shoestring budget,” coming in around $50,000 in 2018. Those tight margins have been really tight at times, including in the wake of a minor electrical fire that displaced the organization from a former location. 

Most funding comes from donations from individuals, though State Farm recently awarded the nonprofit a $25,000 grant. Schafer plans to pursue additional grant funding to hire an executive director who could help the organization continue expanding. One possibility is adding a program to teach men the art of tailoring. 

For Schafer, aiding others through Sharp Dressed Man is deeply personal. 

“I had a battle with drugs and alcohol for 20 years, and if I wouldn’t have changed my life, I either would have been dead or I would have been in line asking for free soup,” he says. “They say that if you want to keep it, you have to give it away. This is how I figured out how I can give it away, and help other people with my God-given talent and what I know about clothing.”

“That’s why I do it,” he adds.

For more, visit sharpdressedman.org. And for a Monitor video about Sharp Dressed Man, click here.

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