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A new boutique carrying women’s business wear and staffed with personal shoppers to help ensure proper fitting, opened Friday in downtown Buffalo.

But the new venue isn’t for the area’s wealthiest; it caters to women on the opposite end of the socioeconomic spectrum.

Dress for Success Buffalo, located at 20 Court St., is a nonprofit organization that offers free career apparel to low-income women entering the workforce.

“This is going to be life-changing for them, because what you look like on the outside affects how you feel about yourself on the inside,” said executive director Christa Vidaver.

Vidaver and other executives gathered Friday afternoon in a packed store for the grand opening. U.S. Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz and Mayor Byron W. Brown were among the many who attended.

“In a tough economy, women are the answer to growing the middle class,” said Gillibrand, D-N.Y., adding that the program will empower local women.

Dress for Success began 16 years ago and has more than 100 locations across the nation and in 14 countries. The program has helped 650,000 women to date and provides clothing to about 60,000 people a year. It is funded through donations from companies and individuals.

Women who have undergone job training and are on the cusp of finding work are eligible for the program. They have to be referred to the program through partnering agencies, like social services and Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority. The Buffalo site hopes to aid 300 women a year in landing and retaining jobs.

“That suit is a symbol of success for a woman who has done the hard work of training for a position,” said Joi Gordon, CEO of Dress for Success Worldwide. “Giving her that suit says ‘look at who you are to become.’ ”

Women are given professional clothing for interviews, and if they get the position, they then receive a week’s worth of business separates.

“But it’s not just ‘here’s your suit, we’ll see you later,’ ” Vidaver said.

Giving women professional wardrobes is the first step. Dress for Success also offers mentoring programs. After women have landed jobs, they then join a professional women’s group that meets once a month and offers tips from speakers on a broad array of topics, such as career development, taxes, and health and wellness.

“We want them to move forward in their careers and their lives overall,” Vidaver said.

An email from Gillibrand to Vidaver about Dress for Success in 2011 sparked Vidaver’s interest. She asked the worldwide officials about being a Buffalo-based volunteer. Their response was: Why not start a Buffalo affiliate? Vidaver, who has worked as a administrative professional, spent the past year and half getting the local affiliate off the ground.

“It’s been a long and incredible journey, and I’ve met fabulous Western New York women along the way,” she said.

Through various donations – from clothing to paint – the boutique-style operation is now open. The women’s specialty store, The Limited, which has supported other Dress for Success locations around the country, will hold a drive to benefit the Buffalo location this weekend at its Walden Galleria and Boulevard Mall stores. Limited customers are encouraged to drop off gently used business attire, donate money, and the company will donate a portion of weekend sales from both stores to Dress for Success Buffalo.

William Acevedo, the Limited’s senior vice president of stores, said Dress for Success’ mission is in line with the Limited’s.

Later this month, Dress for Success will receive referrals for its first clients and will see them by appointment only from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursday and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. two Saturdays a month.

It will eventually operate Monday through Friday when its client list and staff grows.

email: esapong@buffnews.com