The Wardrobe in Philadelphia: Clothes for those who need them
The wardrobe is not your typical thrift store.
Located on 4th Street between Callowhill and Willow Streets, the shop offers second-hand items for sale to the public and also provides free clothing to those who need it most.
“We see clothing as a basic need,” said Sheri Cole, executive director of The Wardrobe. “If you look at the hierarchy of needs, it’s food, clothing and shelter. We have government support for food and housing, but we really don’t have anything that covers people’s clothing needs.
The non-profit store aims to fill that void, while providing a welcoming experience.
The store is organized like a boutique. There are shelves full of beautiful, colorful clothes, organized by style and size; fitting rooms where people can try on items – and personal shoppers to advise on outfits and help you through your buying process.
Some people come to donate clothes or buy second-hand items. Others have been referred to the store by other organizations in order to access a wardrobe they otherwise could not purchase on their own. Whether it’s a customer or a referred customer, everyone enters through the same door and has access to all the inventory.
“Everyone receives the same respect and dignity,” said Al Sharrock, director of the nonprofit program. “Let them pay [for] something or if they’re not, they always get the same friendly faces asking them if they need anything else.
Clothing for all
The cabinet, formerly known as the career cabinet, works with various organizations, from the Nationalities Services Center (NSC) to Hopeworks to Women Against Abuse, to ensure that all kinds of communities are able to get the clothes they need.
Shopping for clothes can be expensive, said Cole, who has worked for the association for more than 20 years.
“If we can take that stress out of the family budget by allowing them to come here and get the adult clothes they need for free, then they can spend that on things that will get their family going,” Cole said. .
Last year, the store received a state grant from Representative Jordan A. Harris that funds Returning Wardrobe, a program that provides returning citizens released from prison with casual clothing. Community members on probation or parole can also get clothing to help them find jobs.
The store has held events where returning citizens can enter the store — and also get their hair cut by a hairstylist and talk to disbarment lawyers.
Their new initiative, Open Wardrobe, allows the organization to expand its reach to a different community each month. Then, the thrift store will open on a designated day so that this particular community can come in and shop for free. In February, The Wardrobe worked with NSC to serve Afghan refugees who have resettled in Philadelphia in recent months. In April, they’ll be hosting a prom for the youngsters, as occasion-specific dresses and costumes can often be difficult for families to invest in.
For May, The Wardrobe is working on an LGBTQ+ event, which specifically focuses on trans and non-binary people so they can find gender-affirming clothing and receive other services. The store already has men’s clothing and women’s clothing spread throughout the store to make shopping comfortable for people of all genders.
“We allow people and encourage people to shop in whatever section they want,” Sharrock said.