‘You’re out of uniform!’ And that’s a good thing at Operation Dress Code, where women veterans can dress for success

SAN DIEGO – Five years after leaving the U.S. Coast Guard, Franchesca Avila emerged from Central Arkansas University with a degree in family and consumer science.

Then came time to get a job as a civilian. The tight budget of a new graduate didn’t leave much extra cash for the attire she needed to interview for jobs. Living in Escondido, she heard of Operation Dress Code, the annual event that helps women veterans adjust to civilian life by providing free professional clothing, shoes, and accessories for interviewing. But it was the summer of 2018, and the next Dress Code event wasn’t until November. She needed help immediately.

The powerhouse behind Operation Dress Code.
The powerhouse behind Operation Dress Code.

Avila went to the women veterans clothing closet the program maintains year round. There, she met Dress Code organizer Randee McLain. Avila got the clothes she needed. And, she impressed McLain so much that she got something even more valuable.

“I hired her,” said McLain, a program manager for Mental Health Systems (MHS), which manages Dress Code and Courage to Call beneath its umbrella of services.

Avila, 42, now directs homeless outreach and provides resources at MHS.

“I am the case manager at two shelters,” said Avila, who exemplifies the woman veteran Dress Code story.

McLain, Avila, and others, including the California Department of Veterans Affairs, are partnering in the sixth annual Operation Dress Code Boutique Day event Saturday at the University of San Diego’s Hahn Forum. As many as 500 women veterans will receive the professional attire they’ll need to seek civilian jobs. And they will need it, as Lindsey Sin, CalVet’s Deputy Secretary for Women Veterans Affairs can attest. She did, after leaving the US Navy following an eight-year career.

 “I went for an interview and I had no idea of what to wear,” Sin said during a recent event to promote Saturday’s event. “Women come out of the military, and we’re so used to wearing uniforms. We don’t necessarily know what is appropriate to wear in a job setting in civilian life.”

Accessories that will be available to women veterans during Operation Dress Code Boutique Day in San Diego on Saturday.
Accessories from the 2018
Operation Dress Code Boutique Day.

For the past several weeks, organizers have placed pink drop-off boxes at numerous places in and around the San Diego area. Items have been arriving from throughout the state as well. Women who attend will have access to hair styling, makeup, massages, and other amenities. LinkedIn will teach them how to boost their professional profiles.

Operation Dress Code goes far beyond the free attire, said founder Marcey Brightwell, who, with McLain, organized the first event held in Sacramento in 2014 and has worked with Mental Health Systems in San Diego since 2015.

“It was designed with women veterans in mind,” Brightwell said. “We wanted to make sure they transition to their new jobs with respect. It’s truly a transformation event.”

“It’s really about women helping women,” McLain said.

The women veterans who can’t attend Saturday’s Boutique can always visit the closet they maintain year-round.

“No donation goes unused,” McLain said. “If they can’t make it that day, reach out to us. We are there for them.”

Avila is proof. She walked in needing clothes for a job interview. She walked out with the clothing and, better yet, a job.

To register, go to https://www.operationdresscode.com/events.html


  1. Dale, Jill@Calvet · · Reply

    Great article!


  2. Awesome!!Is there a clothing closet in LA,CA for female vets. Thank you.


  3. June Downum · · Reply

    Is there a similar program in Northern California? I have men’s suits and sports jackets and many women’s suits. The only reason I ask is shipping is to expensive.


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