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Operation Dress Code helps female service members transition to civilian life

Operation Dress Code San Diego sign at 'The Dress Code Boutique' on the University of San Diego campus on November 4, 2022.
Melissa Mae
Operation Dress Code sign at the Dress Code Boutique on the University of San Diego campus. Nov. 4, 2022.

When RanDee McLain retired from the Navy in 2009, she saw many programs that helped male service members transition to civilian life, but no assistance was available for her and her fellow female veterans. Today, she is helping to fill that gap through Operation Dress Code.

“It’s not really a hand out, it’s a hand up. We’ve all been there," McLain said. "When I transitioned out I didn’t know where to turn either.”

This Saturday, Operation Dress Code will offer a pop-up boutique at the University of San Diego. The event will have a variety of services to help active duty military women and veterans make the transition to civilian life. This is the program's seventh year running.


“It’s an opportunity for female veterans and active duty to receive business clothes, shoes, accessories and lots of other things that they may need as they transition to the civilian workforce,” McLain said.

The highlight of the boutique day is a shopping spree with a personal stylist. The experience also includes professional business headshots with hair and makeup services, and the opportunity to attend several inspirational and informative workshops.

McLain said thanks to their community partners, the boutique is stocked to assist about 500 service women.

The boutique is being set up and staffed by volunteers, many of whom are military veterans who benefited from Operation Dress Code. Cassandra Johnson is one of those volunteers. She served in the Navy for 14 years, and said the transition to civilian life is hard for some people.

"When you’re deployed, you don’t have that time (to transition to civilian life). You don’t have that support. If you’re out on the ship or you’re overseas, (you) don’t have that connection,” Johnson said.


This is Johnson’s third year volunteering. She said helping other women is a way to pay it forward.

“I’m happy with them. I’m weeping with them. It just gives them a sense of release. You can see people smiling,” Johnson said. “Some people aren’t talking, but they’re taking it all in. They’re knowing and feeling that people are there to support them.”

The donations don’t just magically appear on the racks at the boutique. Volunteers like Linda Colker processed over 5,000 items.

“We just sort it by size and then we hang them up, put them on racks, put a bag on it, label it and off it goes to Operation Dress Code,” Colker said.

Colker is also one of the many personal stylists who will assist the service women at the Dress Code Boutique and just like Johnson, volunteers as a way to pay it forward.

McLain said Operation Dress Code helps break down the barrier to entry for service members transitioning to civilian life.

“We come out (of the military) with such amazing, transferable skills," McLain said. "(We are) just empowering them to know what those differences are and help them transition to that civilian workforce.”

All services are free and appointments are still available for active duty or veteran service women. See Operation Dress Code's website for more information.