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Beyond the law: Dressing up

Every Issue

Cite as: Jan/Feb 2015 89 (1/2) LIJ, p.100

Retired solicitor Veronika Whittaker has put her fashion sense to good use. 

When Veronika Whittaker worked for the LIV in compliance in the early 1980s, the dress code for women in the legal profession was ultra-conservative.

“If you wanted to be taken seriously we imposed upon ourselves the conservative suit like our male counterparts,” Ms Whittaker said.

The retired solicitor now uses fashion to help boost the job prospects and self-esteem of disadvantaged women through her not-for-profit shop Clothes4U on the Mornington Peninsula.

With pro bono assistance from Norton Rose Fulbright senior associate Mia Matic, Ms Whittaker launched the award-winning charity in 2013 in a spare bedroom before moving the boutique into a converted garage. Today it operates from a shopfront on Boneo Road, Rosebud.

“Our clients range from 16 years to 60 plus and live in an environment where housing is largely unaffordable and there is high unemployment,” Ms Whittaker explained.

“Many women have been physically and sexually abused, they are single mothers, refugees, parolees, or suffering from mental health issues and homelessness.”

Friends, family and the community donate clothing, shoes and toiletries.

“Women come to us for clothing to wear to court proceedings, job and rental interviews and funerals or Centrelink, school and DHS appointments,” Ms Whittaker said.

The boutique, now run by 26 volunteers, helps dress more than 35 women each month and gives away more than 250 items, taking into account each woman’s body shape, likes and dislikes, and their reason for needing clothing.

“I want the women to come into a beautiful environment where they can try on clothes and for the hour they spend with us be pampered and feel safe,” said Ms Whittaker.

“Most of them say that no one has ever paid them so much attention – there is always a lot of laughter and tears.”

To fund Clothes4U, the committee runs grassroots fundraising campaigns including sausage sizzles, comedy nights and, of course, fashion shows.

Retiring five years ago from the law and a lifestyle where her mind was “fully engaged” was daunting, Ms Whittaker said. Moving to the peninsula, the mother of three knew no one, but found volunteering a way to meet people while giving back to the community.

“Lawyers have so much to offer. What better way to use those skills than by serving your community in retirement,” she said. “Clothes4U gave me an opportunity to see on a day-to-day basis the impact you can have on other peoples’ lives.”

And, while Ms Whittaker and her team plan to expand the not-for-profit to offer education programs for girls in danger of leaving school and on how to prepare for the interview process, Clothes4U has already been recognised for its good work. It received a 2014 RACV Good Citizens Program award, while the George Hicks Foundation and other local supporters have recently contributed funds to help the boutique move into a bigger shop front in 2015.

“I love what I do,” said Ms Whittaker, “but the women we serve deserve more”.

For more information visit www.clothes

Harriet Edmund


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