What are career closets? More colleges help cash-strapped students with job-ready clothes

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Renee Perez saves any extra money for her five children. For the 38-year-old, who majored in Business Information Technology at Christian University in Texas, non-essentials, such as her professional clothing, are difficult purchases to justify.

She noticed that other students in the orbit of Fort Worth Business School didn’t seem to have the same concerns. At a networking event, Perez sees professionals dressed in well-fitting, expensive-looking clothes. She feels that Perez, who wears worn-out shoes and no blazer, is better at blending in with a crowd than approaching people without a sophisticated look.

“If you dress ‘a little less,’ they may feel they don’t take you as seriously,” Perez said. , I feel that wearing nice clothes gives me a different kind of confidence.”

Attending college already means a mountain of unexpected expenses. There are costs for books, lab fees, and parking permits. But low-income students can also be caught off guard by the cost of fitting into the workplace. This is the experience of a large student group. About a third of undergraduate students in the 2020-21 school year received a Pell Grant, a financial award for low-income students.

Dressing professionally is one of those costs, and it can be difficult to even figure out where to start dressing beyond the relative safety of college. Other costs associated with , can quickly strain an already limited student budget.

A growing number of universities, including TCU, are addressing these concerns by offering professional clothing to their students. While some rely on donations from local communities and alums, TCU provides students with bespoke clothing. The university’s program, called Suit Up, is limited to students who are in financial need, and those who participate in the initiative also take professional development classes.

Ann Tasby, accounting instructor and director of the business school’s office of inclusive excellence, oversees Suit Up. It was created in spring 2021, Tasby said, after a focus group that brought together diverse students to understand their perceptions of the business school. They realized that many people avoided it because they didn’t have the right clothes.

“It was very difficult and scary,” Tasby said. “You don’t think about business attire until you wear it.”

Tasby took some of these students to the business school’s advisory board, which includes executives from national and global companies, to brief them on the challenge. Like any college program, he needs funding to continue, Tasby said, but that was enough to fund the program. The program serves about 40 students per academic year and cost about $20,000 to start.

For generations, students have relied on thrift stores and family vintage clothing. However, these attires rarely fit well, leaving wearers worried whether prospective employers would find the styles baggy, tight, or outdated. and tailor-made clothing is another indicator of class disparities that the university intends to narrow.

For beginners, figuring out where to buy professional clothing or how much it can cost can be overwhelming. but students may not be familiar with the fitting system. Are 15″ or 16″ collars closer to traditional mediums? There are many other unknowns: Are skirts okay? Are stockings required? Is the belt brown or black?

Students say colleges should help them dress professionally if required for class

For some students, not wearing the right clothes leads to anxiety on top of typical college worries. Alijah Wood, 21, came from Michigan when she arrived at TCU without professional clothing. He said it wasn’t what he grew up with and that buying a suit seemed like a headache to avoid, especially when you could spend the money on a nice shirt or street shoes.

That meant borrowing clothes from friends when presentations and events called for formal attire. , felt like a burden.

And shoes were always too big.

Through the Suit Up program, he owns a tailored suit, a shirt with his initials on the collar, and properly fitting shoes. Wood said the new suit will give him a “peace of mind” when attending formal events or business events.

“They should,” he said. “If you want professional attire, or want something specific that people don’t have, you need to provide them with the medium to get it.

Another benefit of form-fitting clothing is that it boosts student confidence. After receiving his suit, Wood posted a photo of himself in the suit on his Instagram, promoting a throat spray he developed to soothe his vocal cords at his public speaking events.

Appropriate clothing may feel particularly urgent for students of color, where white spaces predominate. Appropriate attire also helps us embrace parts of our identity that are considered non-standard in a professional setting. For example, Perez said she was a fan of her hoop earrings and winged eyeliner, but her older sister took note of the style because she attended her school of business.

“I thought, no, no, I would look good in my own clothes and be comfortable wearing winged eyeliner.

The clothes showed that the college was thinking about her needs, Perez said. Starting school at 35 was already scary for her, but thanks to the support from her university, she said she was able to succeed.

Is Appropriate Dress Really Important to Employers?

Christine Cruzvergara, Chief Academic Officer at Handshake, a college job site, used to work in the career advisory department at her university.

She’s happy that the university offers a professional clothing service, but employers aren’t going to dock students wearing clothes that are too loose or out of style. Recruiters want to know that students can express themselves in a professional environment.

Perhaps more importantly, they want to see a sense of trust from applicants. Professional networking and trying to find a job are already “a nerve-wracking experience,” Cruzbergara said. said Mr.

“It’s uncomfortable when you’re wearing shoes or clothes that don’t belong to you and that don’t fit,” Cruzvergara said. ”

She noted that employer expectations vary by industry and region. People working in the financial industry probably still have to dress professionally every day.

However, the pandemic has relaxed many rules regarding workplace attire. Expectations may be relaxed for in-office interactions and internal video calls, she said, compared to when employees interact with clients and other people outside the company.

How far should universities go to ensure that the low-income students they attract are successful?

According to Cruzvergara, over the past decade, more colleges have created what they call “career closets.” The Northwestern University Cat Closet offers up to three individual items or one suit each academic year. At the University of Michigan, staff help students find professional attire in a “safe, clean, and private space.”

The University of Washington has offered a similar program since 2019, said Briana Randall, director of the university’s career services program. This program was born out of a desire to ensure that the university met the distinct needs of low-income, first-generation, or other non-traditional students.

“Universities have been more careful in making sure that their enrollment numbers are very diverse,” Randall said. It’s not always so focused on supporting diverse students.”

Almost uniformly, students have responded positively to the University of Washington’s programs. The center asked students about their experiences with the program, and they reported that wearing professional clothing made them less anxious and more confident.

According to Randall, the biggest challenge is keeping closets stocked.

Randall fills the Husky Career Closet with donations from alumni and faculty. Despite good intentions, these items tend not to suit college students.

Her department recently applied for and received a $3,000 grant for the program, but faced the same problems students face. Purchasing professional shoes for just $35 a pair will pay off quickly.

This reflects Cruzvergara’s experience while working at colleges and universities in the greater District of Columbia, including Georgetown University, George Washington University, and George Mason University. Career Her centers often have a fraction of the budget and human resources of other departments, such as admissions and admissions.

This disconnect speaks to the long-standing tensions between colleges and students. Scholars will say that the goal of college education should not be entirely career-focused. Students who have invested years and racked up potentially life-altering debt often disagree. They want to know that their time and money will be useful later in life.

“It’s a pity they are spending so much money trying to get students,” Cruzbergara said.

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Quote: What is Career Closet?More colleges to provide job-ready clothes for cash-strapped students (27 Dec 2022) on 27 Dec 2022 https://phys.org/news/2022-12-career Taken from -closets-colleges-cash-strapped-students.html

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