A Conversation with Margo den Ougden, Founder of 46 Dresses

46 Dresses was started in 2016. 46 Dresses is a foundation and has the mission of dressing every woman in the Netherlands to reflect her worth: as a queen, according to their founder. I chatted with founder, Margo den Ougden about this and everything else 46 Dresses.

Madison Grace: For those who don’t know, what does 46 Dresses do in the community?

Margo den Ougden: We gift a new dress, new shoes, and a health and beauty package to women who fall under the increasingly large group of the “new poor”. Among others, we find these women through schools or associations, or they are introduced to us by other people. We also open our network to them, to offer them new chances. The impact that this has on self-worth and future chances is significant. In a short period of time, 46 Dresses has reached thousands of women.

MG: Where did the idea for the organization come from?

MO: For years I was looking for a sense of meaning in my job as a communication strategist for several companies. At a birthday party I had a conversation with a beautiful woman. She told me how happy she was with the second hand leather bag she was given, despite holes in the upholstery. Her gratitude for receiving something like this hit me. She confessed that she was in financial distress for years now, consequently unable to buy herself anything, making this bag particularly special. That evening I opened my wardrobe and glanced at all my dresses; I had 50 of them! I took out a light blue dress I had never worn, and thought: ‘This one is for her.’ When I gave her the dress, her response was another defining moment. She told me she had not felt so feminine and appreciated in years. I realized that if a single dress could make someone feel seen and empowered, I didn’t want to stop there. If I could rent out my remaining dresses, I could buy new ones out of the profits, reaching many more women. A dress can be the beginning of a new life.

MG: Why did you see the need for the organization in your community?

MO: The women in our target group make too much money to qualify as poor, but too little to really take care of themselves. They are single moms with a minimum income. Sometimes they are women who have lost their jobs, self-employed or managing a chronic illness. They do not qualify for food stamps and are invisible to governments and special poverty programs. They are ‘in between’. So they bravely manage their household, arranging for basic needs to be met. Which means that often they haven't bought a new piece of clothing for themselves in years. They are vulnerable and feel unseen. This results in low self-esteem and self worth.

Thanks to customers, our thousands of friends on social media and foundations across the country, 46 gets connected to these women. Once we are connected we reach out with a simple question: Can we make you happy with a brand new dress? The answer is always: YES! So we pack the car with beautiful new dresses in her style and size, new shoes and a care package, and head for her home. Also, we ask her ‘How can we add quality to your life?’ so we basically help them with coaches, new jobs, or a new skill set.

MG: How do you think wearing a dress can impact a woman's life and confidence and why is it important to you to wear something you feel comfortable and confident in?

MO: A dress can make a difference between a girl and a woman, between making an impression or staying unnoticed. A dress underlines your personality. A dress can contain history, an ode or a reference, promising a radiant future. A dress can be the beginning of a new life. The dress is not an end goal, but a vehicle towards a better future.

MG: To those who think differently, that clothes don’t impact your confidence, image, etc., what do you want them to know?

MO: I love this story Marian shared on her social media. She is one of the 50 women that has received a dress from us:

“I grew up in a big family. I was the only girl and got to wear my brothers’ clothes. When I dreamed about ‘later’, I dreamed of a job, a family, and especially lots of my own feminine clothing. That dream came true. But I didn’t know that my husband was keeping a big secret: he gambled. Of course, now I wonder, did I miss all the signs?

First, we lost the car to debt, and not much later, our house, and eventually I sold my most beautiful earrings and clothing. Like I was selling my womanhood.

We’re still together. He’s recovered. Our life isn’t what it used to be on the outside, but we’re stronger than ever. Due to the Dutch debt restructuring program, we are living at a minimum. We are too proud for the food bank, but I’ve been wearing the same clothes for years. When I’m invited to weddings, I think up excuses because I know I can’t afford anything nice. I’m also embarrassed for my husband and sons to see me like that.

And then I got your email. I couldn’t stop crying. I’ve longed for ‘anything’ new for myself for years. To see myself in this new dress and these new shows now… I’m speechless. And the feeling of getting to wear a good fabric. I feel so valuable. Like it’s symbolizing a new beginning.”

Marian (39)

Find out more about 46 Dresses and donate to support their cause here.

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