When students go away to college, the last thing they might think to pack is a suit and tie or a long dress skirt. Luckily for students at Shippensburg University, the Raider Ready Professional Dress Closet has them covered.
Since late August, the Career, Mentoring and Development Center (CMPD) located inside the Ceddia Union Building, has provided students with free access to professional clothing via the dress closet.
Janet McKeithan, the associate director at the CMPD, said that the idea for the closet first started several years ago with the Women Leaders of the College of Business, who operate the closet in conjunction with the CMPD.
“They hadn’t been able to get something going,” McKeithan said. “They would do clothing drives and just do a day where students could come and get professional dress, but it didn’t have permanent housing. It’s something that would go away.”
The professional clothing closet is now here to stay, but would not be able to do so without donations. The clothing, which is gently worn, has been donated to the closet by local businesses, alumni and even current professors.
McKeithan said the main purpose for the closet is to help students prepare for some type of meeting or occasion that requires a professional presentation, such as an interview, internship meeting or presentation.
Alix Rouby, the director of MBA recruitment, business internships and entrepreneurial outreach at Shippensburg University’s John L. Grove College of Business who has also assisted with the closet, said the closet addresses two main concerns.
“There’s resource issues where students might not always have the means to be able to afford a professional suit or outfit for an interview, but sometimes there is also the question of ‘What is actually appropriate?’ and ‘What is actually deemed professional?’” Rouby said.
Students have the option to return any outfit they borrow once they are done with it, but may also keep one outfit a year from the closet free of charge since affordability is often a problem when it comes to professional attire.
“I definitely have had students in my office telling me, like, ‘Well, I don’t have money to buy a suit.’ And I had to look at that student, and I was like, ‘I don’t have anything that fits you,’” Rouby said. “I couldn’t help and it just shattered my heart.”
“We don’t want their appearance to be that last hold out thing that, you know, is just nagging at them. And we don’t want them to have to go into debt to try to afford something, you know, if they really can’t,” said McKeithan.
Student Jordan Moreno-Lacalle said he used the closet for an interview after searching for suit jackets for days, only to find hefty price tags.
“They were all too expensive. I mean, I think every college student knows they really have no money,” said Moreno-Lacalle. “So the career and development center offering that service was really helpful because I was able to go and grab a suit, like, a full suit, to wear to my interview really easily.”
For students who wish to get clothing they receive from the closet professionally cleaned, McKeithan said the closet has also made arrangements with CVR Uniforms in downtown Shippensburg for students to get their clothing cleaned at reduced rates.
Students looking to check out an outfit should stop by the CMPD during business hours on Tuesday, from 4-6 p.m., Wednesday, from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. or schedule an appointment. Students will check in using their student ID and be assisted by a CMPD staff member or a student in the Women Leaders of the College of Business, who will help students find clothing that will work for them.
Both McKeithan and Rouby stress the importance of students looking their best at professional events, and studies show that those well-dressed are more likely to succeed.
A 2014 study conducted at Yale used 128 men, ages 18-32, and had them partake in mock negotiations of buying and selling. According to the study, “Those dressed poorly (in sweatpants and plastic sandals) averaged a theoretical profit of $680,000, while the group dressed in suits amassed an average profit of $2.1 million.”
“I think that a nice suit or dress probably makes you feel more confident,” said Moreno-Lacalle. “I know being dressed in the suit when I went for both of my interviews gave me a little bit more confidence.”
Rouby also agrees that suits have a tendency of giving the wearer “an instant aura of respectability.”
“Do I agree with that? That’s another debate,” she says. “But the reality is, that’s how you have to do it. Perception still matters.”
Moving forward after its first semester in operation, McKeithan and Rouby are both excited to see how the closet will help more students as word gets out and donations keep coming in.
McKeithan said she hopes the closet will continue to help students and “alleviate one less concern as part of their professional development.”
“As long as we always keep the outlook of what’s going to help the students, what’s right for the students, and how can we just, you know, go all in and support them 1,000 percent,” Rouby said, “then you can never go wrong. If it’s right, it’s right. You’ll know it.”