A new organization on campus, the Clothing Closet at Iowa, strives to create a clothing bank that gives students an affordable option when it comes to buying new or used professional clothing. The organization will launch in Fall 2018 and will be located on the second floor of the Iowa Memorial Union, near the Food Pantry at Iowa.
“Many other universities in and outside of the Big Ten have established clothing closets which students are using,” said Lynne Sebille-White, the Senior Director of Career Advancement at the Pomerantz Career Center and member of the Clothing Closet’s Advisory Board. “Given the growth in student use of the Food Pantry, we anticipate a similar need for professional clothing among our students.”
The Clothing Closet at Iowa began as a University of Iowa Student Government (UISG) initiative that will now be turning into a service-based student organization. UISG identified the issue of purchasing expensive professional clothing and worked on advocating to establish a professional clothing bank with campus partners and by conducting peer research to learn about the needs of students on campus. In addition to supporting students who are unable to afford professional clothes, it will also divert textile waste from landfills and promote reusing and recycling clothing.
“I know it will offer support to students that will enhance their opportunities for entering the world of work,” said Charlotte Brown, the staff adviser for the Clothing Closet. “It will allow them to focus on finding their dream career, rather than wondering whether or not they can afford to purchase professional clothing.”
From the research conducted, it was determined that most students had the need for professional clothing at least a few times each semester, with some students also needing it on a weekly basis. The most needed clothing items include blazers, shoes, formal shirts, dress pants, dresses and skirts. 60% of students who participated in the research said that they would use a professional clothing bank if it were on campus and 32% said they would consider using it if it were available.
“My first thoughts [about the need for professional clothing] began years ago when I lent a student a sports coat for a case competition,” said Kenneth Brown, the Associate Dean at the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business. “If he didn’t have a sports coat, I wondered what he would wear to a job interview.”
The accessibility of professional clothing has been a concern on Iowa’s campus before. During the Fall 2017 semester, the Pomerantz Career Center partnered with UISG and JCPenney in the Coral Ridge Mall to hold an event called “Suit Up,” during which JCPenney exclusively stayed open late for Iowa students to use 40 percent off coupons on professional clothing. Over 600 students attended the event, which demonstrated a need to those involved with the clothing bank.
“College is so expensive! On top of tuition, you also have to pay for books, food, a roof over your head and so many other things, which ends up being a lot of money. Then for many opportunities, you’re expected to show up in clothing that costs upwards of $150, if not more,” said Alexandra Mote, the Closet Closet at Iowa’s Marketing Director. “I hope that the Clothing Closet can help take even a little bit of the burden off of students by providing free professional clothing.”
Mote also said that the members of the Clothing Closet will need to work hard to create an inclusive and safe environment for students using the professional clothing bank.
"I think there’ll be some students who are ready to jump right on the opportunity to get professional clothing at no cost, but I think there will also be students who are worried, skeptical, maybe embarrassed and so on," she said. "There can be a lot of stigma that surrounds services like these, services where you’re asking for help in a way."
After the Clothing Closet at Iowa officially starts as a student organization in the Fall 2018 semester, the leadership team will be able to determine what items and sizes are most needed in order to keep the closet stocked throughout the year.
“Most students will need professional clothing at some point for interviews, job fairs, presentations or for working in an internship or entry-level position following graduation,” said Sebille-White. “We want all students to be able to feel confident and polished when presenting themselves in an interview, presentation, job fair or other similar setting.”
Sebille-White also said that she thinks there will be a continual student demand for professional clothing throughout the year, especially before on-campus job fairs and other recruiting and interviewing times.
Any student at the University of Iowa with an active student ID will be able to use the Clothing Closet at Iowa without having to demonstrate their need and there will be a five item limit each semester.
Campus partners involved with the Clothing Closet at Iowa include the Pomerantz Career Center, the Tippie College of Business, the Iowa Memorial Union, the Center for Student Involvement and Leadership, the Food Pantry at Iowa, the University of Iowa Office of Sustainability, the Center for Diversity and Enrichment, Beta Alpha Psi, UISG, the Graduate and Professional Student Government (GPSG) and the University of Iowa Center for Advancement.
“When the Clothing Closet first opens, it’ll definitely be challenging and there’ll be a lot of learning and adjusting that’ll have to happen during that first semester while we learn who’s actually using the closet and the types of items students need and want,” Mote said. “But we have a great team and a lot of support from the community, so I’m optimistic that the Clothing Closet will succeed.”
For ideas and advice on what to wear for professional settings, check out the Pomerantz Center’s Dress for Success section on their website.
All photos are stock images.