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Dressing smart: success built in threads

By Kiahna White-Alcain

Nestled in Old Main, on the second floor all the way in the corner, lies a room within a room. In that small room lies four incomplete walls holding an array of clothing from business shirts and slacks to skirts and shoes. They are all clothes that can be styled and worn professionally.

The Career Closet, located within the Career Services Center, is a free resource created to help students and alumni build their professional wardrobe, attend career fairs or go to job interviews, Britta Eschete, office assistant 3 at the Career Services Center said.

Eschete is one of the main organizers for what is now the Career Closet.

She said this type of program is not new to Western. There used to be something similar to the Career Closet connected to the Compass 2 Campus program, Eschete said.

The Career Closet was thought of in the fall of 2017, in the College of Business and Economics, by Cat Armstrong Soule. The idea was initially pitched to her by a fellow advisee. In late winter 2018 the first call for donations was sent out, Armstrong Soule said.

“They were initially interested in collecting clothing for students within CBE [College of Business of Economics],” Eschete said. “Soon they realized they had received a lot of donations from faculty and staff with no place to store it.”

Armstrong Soule soon contacted Career Services, since they were a central location available to both students and faculty, Eschete said.

“We originally had [the Career Closet] in Parks Hall,” Armstrong Soule said. “I can’t remember who had the idea but somebody said we should see if Career Services had space for it, and that’s kind of how it started.”

When the closet’s location moved to the Career Services Center, a lot of people were super receptive and excited, Armstrong Soule said. Not only did the Career Services Center have available space, but they also offered undivided support for the closet.

An open house was held in October 2019 to formally launch the Career Closet, inviting the Office of Sustainability, as well as Ragfinery to highlight additional resources available to students and alumni, Eschete said. There was also a LinkedIn photo booth set up to show off student-made outfits created using business attire clothes found in the closet.

The open house had between 100-200 students and alumni in attendance. At the event they were able to give out about 60 different clothing items, Guadalupe Castillo, a Western first-year said. Castillo is a peer adviser at Western who works closely with the Career Closet.

“The Career Closet reached out to us,” Daryn Vorderbruegge, assistant director of annual giving and alumni membership, said. Western’s Give Day helps out with a lot of campus-wide fundraising, she said.

Clothing and shoes in the Career Closet have mostly been donated items from faculty and staff, Eschete said. At the start, a huge portion of donations came from CBE faculty and staff, which quickly turned into other faculty and staff donating items after the word had spread, Madeline Rosenvinge said.

Rosenvinge, who is now a graduate assistant, was the Career Closet development intern this past summer from mid-July until the open house.

“I wish I had gone there more during my undergrad,” Rosenvinge, who graduated in 2015, said. “The whole team is so amazing, knowledgeable and just care so much about students.”

But are the clothes in the Career Closet actually stylish and practical to wear out in public? Rosenvinge says yes.

“We have a lot of really nice stuff in the closet,” Rosenvinge said. “There’s a beautiful Marc Jacobs silk, linen suit as well as brand new pants sometimes with the tags still on.”

Castillo had the duty of styling three different looks in the Career Closet, proving that you can actually style the clothes you find there.

Two of the looks for women showcased a black floral dress with a gray blazer, and black slacks paired with a white top and a black blazer. One of the looks for men was a dark grey suit with a light grey and blue checkered button-up.

“Not a lot of people are able to have access to professional clothing due to cost,” Castillo said.

Before this last year, alumni used to have to pay an annual fee in order to use the services offered by the Career Center, Eschete said. Alumni will no longer be charged for services within Career Services that they may need, whether that be help with interviews or clothes from the Career Closet.

Two formal looks that Castillo styled for women that can be worn in interviews or career fairs out of clothes donated to the Career Closet. // Photo by Kiahna White-Alcain.

Armstrong Soule emphasized how a huge part of the rubric of grading presentation for certain professors at Western is based on how students are dressed professionally and look the part.

“A lot of students don’t have the resources to acquire [business] clothes,” Armstrong Soule said. “Professors don’t always appreciate how inaccessible it can be to have professional clothing.”

While not everyone can always afford professional clothing, having the Career Closet on campus is something that is really important for students to have access to, Armstrong Soule said. Clothing is an important tool for both networking and interviewing.

“It’s important to recognize that not every student is arriving at Western with a blank check,” Eschete said. “Western leadership is acknowledging that and making space to address everything from food to housing to attire, which is all a piece to a student being successful.”

Since October, the Career Closet has participated in Western’s Kindness Day in November.

Lynne Walker, the admin assistant for the vice president of Enrollment and Student Services, is on the Kindness Day committee at Western. The goal of Western’s Kindness Day is to show students all of the services and resources that are available to them, Walker said.

Rayne Rambo, the assistant secretary to the board of trustees at Western has worked closely with Walker on Kindness Day. They are both apart of executive leadership, Rambo said.

When planning Kindness Day, they knew the Career Closet would be a wonderful addition because it fits in perfectly to what Kindness Day is, doing something nice for someone else, she said.

“Having the Career Closet promotes a sense of family,” Rambo said. “We don’t need to feel like we’re out on our own, and that the campus does care about the wellbeing of everyone. When you need something you shouldn’t be afraid to ask.”

Both Walker and Rambo have made donations of clothing to the Career Closet over the past few months.

“It’s a really good feeling to be able to contribute to them,” Rambo said.

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