Some time back, Marc Voci, a 25-year veteran hairstylist and owner of the Marc Voci Salon and Colorbar in Folsom, Pa., decided to rebrand his salon. He hung a sign on the wall that reads Happiness and set up the Colorbar, where customers loosen up with a glass of wine and surf the Internet, while stylists mix hair colors nearby.
He gave away monthly makeovers, drawing on lessons he learned as a child when his beautician mom would volunteer a wash and curl for a struggling client in Voci's Southwest Philadelphia neighborhood.
And he created Style Me Hired (www.stylemehired.com), a region-wide event now in its second year that indulges unemployed women with free makeovers, a job fair, and, Voci hopes, the confidence to take on the job market. The 100 makeover winners, who had to submit short bios with their entries, will get their transformation on Sept. 24 at the Omni Hotel in Old City.
"I saw that the economy was in the toilet, and people were feeling down, and I thought this is how I can help," said Voci, 45.
Each of the lucky "clients" will be matched with one of 25 participating salons in the city and suburbs, including Rittenhouse's SignaCurl By Joseph Lentini, Salon A in Bryn Mawr, and Cambio Salon in Media. They also will receive professional attire from Career Wardrobe, a nonprofit partnering with Voci that outfits women who are transitioning into the workforce.
After a day of makeovers, contestants will be announced like celebrities and will sweep through the Omni Hotel in a red carpet-style reveal.
Angela Allen becomes sentimental when she talks about what a makeover at last year's Style Me Hired event meant to her. "Marc and everyone else made me feel like someone again," said the West Philadelphia native.
Loss, illness, and heartache flooded the 56-year-old's life beginning in 2005. After surviving breast cancer, Allen said she was downsized out of her job as a care manager assistant at Independence Blue Cross, where she had worked for 13 years. She then suffered a heart attack as her marriage of 30 years was ending.
Still out of work during the summer of 2011, the grandmother of two entered the first Style Me Hired event after hearing about it from the folks at Career Wardrobe. Allen is now gainfully employed as a certified peer specialist at a mental health facility and is one semester away from becoming a registered nurse.
"Taking care of yourself is the first thing to go when you fall on tough times," said Sheri K. Cole, executive director of Career Wardrobe. Cole said educators will be on hand to assist with writing resumes when the women come in to pick out their suits at the group's Center City location. Mini-workshops also will be held at Style Me Hired that will teach work-related skills from how to make a lasting impression at a job interview to acceptable ways to assert oneself with an employer.
Since 1995, Cole said, almost 5,000 women annually have come to Career Wardrobe for services, nearly 93 percent of them single mothers. "And if you're a struggling mom, you'll sacrifice because your kids will come first."
Single mother Andrea Blassingame remembers the stress of being unemployed on and off for almost four years, beginning in 2008, while raising her toddler son. The Albright College graduate entered after receiving an e-mail blast and landed a makeover at last year's Style Me Hired. She said the event fueled her vision to start her own business.
"I learned how to network with professionals better, and it gave me the confidence to pursue my dream," said the 29-year-old from West Philly, who last January started Excellence Endeavors, an event-planning company.
A desire to learn how to network drove Cyndy Caramanico, a divorced mother of three teens, to enter her name in this year's contest when she saw the Style Me Hired event posted on Facebook. For eight years, Caramanico worked as an administrative assistant at a publishing company until a downturn in the industry led to her layoff in 2011. Having recently received her nursing degree, Caramanico is about to start job-hunting, with some apprehension.
She figured being primped and pampered for the day might perk up her morale.
"It's been a while since I've been on an interview, and I've never had a nursing interview before," said the 44-year-old from Swarthmore. "I've heard they take place before a panel of medical professionals. That might be a little nerve-racking."
This year, Voci has turned Style Me Hired into more than a makeover event. Roe Falcone, of Educational Data Systems, Inc. (EDSI), will be among 15 employers who will be looking for candidates at the on-site job fair. EDSI is a workforce development center located in eight states and Washington, D.C., and has placed more than 60,000 individuals in jobs in private and government jobs since 1979.
"We have an established number of affiliates in the region. My hope is that some of them might be able to offer jobs for several women," said Falcone, who has an office in Chester.
And Voci will again get a boost from cousin Jimmy DeMarco, 38, a makeup artist on America's Got Talent.
"I told Marc if I could help out again this year, count me in," said DeMarco. "This is a really great experience to help these ladies get on their feet again."