When Will Germaine, 20, of Valley Stream, NY, recently needed professional attire for his new role as student government president, the community health student at Hofstra University didn’t shop online or drive to the nearest mall. Instead, he cruised the shelves in Hofstra’s “career closet” at the campus health and wellness center.
Since opening this permanent location in September, the campus boutique has enabled students to select new and well-worn workwear for internships, job interviews, networking and professional events. As for the cost? Well it’s totally free.
Germaine selected five long-sleeved shirts that matched the dress pants and chinos that were already hanging in his closet. “As the newly elected president of student government, I have many more professional commitments that I want to look professional for. I don’t think my hoodie and jean outfits are the best,” said Germaine, whose mom previously spent $200 on him for a suit. “The career cabinet enables students to worry about one less thing in their professional careers.”
Michelle Kyriakides, executive director of Hofstra’s Center for Career Design & Development, said dressing is critical to success.
“Employers often judge a candidate’s professionalism and career readiness by their looks,” she said. “Having access to the right clothing items helps students feel confident and ensures they are prepared to make a strong first impression.”
Hofstra’s career closet is part of the growing trend of local colleges and universities offering free workwear to students. Typically, donations are workwear worn by faculty, staff, and the community. In addition, it is environmentally friendly. More than 1,500 students have pulled chic strings since Hofstra’s closet launched as a pop-up in 2019 and became permanent in September.
While streamlining resumes and honing interview skills are important, grooming is just as important for career prep, but that comes with a price tag that can be a barrier to entry.
“When some college students think about the high cost of clothing, they worry,” said Kamrin L. Pressley, 22, graduate school mentor on Mercy College’s Bronx campus. When she was a psychology major at Mercy, she grabbed a suit, buttoned shirts, and a pair of shoes. “When you’re trying to get an internship or a job, it’s important to dress appropriately. But if you don’t have the money or the resources, it can set you back.”
Danielle Lawrence, senior, is studying public health at SUNY College in Old Westbury on Long Island, where the curriculum requires students to appear in business presentation skills class in professional attire. Students can visit the cloakroom in the Studentenwerk building once a semester by appointment to choose an outfit from head to toe. Lawrence picked a black blazer, silk blouse, heels and green pants.
“I was new to the School of Business and was surprised to see this as a requirement. I didn’t have any business attire on hand,” said Lawrence, relieved to be able to pull something out of the closet to impress in class. “You should always dress in a way that doesn’t distract people from your clothing, so they pay attention to who you are. If you come neatly and under pressure, they can focus more on what you have to say.”
Local schools aren’t the only organizations offering free workwear. Nonprofits like Bottomless Closet and Dress for Success support women with tools and resources to get back into the workforce. They offer resources from clothing to tips for managing the job search and application process and more.
“We want to help women succeed,” said Melissa Norden, CEO of Bottomless Closet. “Trust is everything. How a woman looks at herself in the mirror and consequently thinks about her self-image will affect how she presents herself to a potential employer.”
Two outfits are usually provided to each competitor, including a handbag, shoes, jewelry, and a coat. After they get a job, they get two to three extra outfits to update their work wardrobe.
Last month, Bottomless Closet held its first careers fair at its Herald Square office, and many job seekers wore their new threads.
Norden said: “They felt so much more confident as they appreciate the TLC we put into their successful attire. The outfits are thoughtful, professional, meaningful and transformative for these women as they take their first steps towards a new beginning.”