That’s when college students who have worked hard to earn good grades and a diploma can’t step out for a job interview, career fair or an internship in a professional setting because their attire consists of only workout gear, t-shirts and jeans.
It’s a common campus problem, actually.
“I lived with twelve girls at one point and some of them scrambled around the house looking for blazers and slacks and collared shirts and they just weren’t available,” said Sophie Umansky, a senior business economics major from Roslyn, N.Y., and the current Student Government Association (SGA) president. “And these items can be expensive.”
“When a young person goes to a job interview, whether a male or female, if they’ve been a college student for four years, they are lucky if they have a navy blazer or a black suit,” added Ronnie Sternin Silver ’67, emerita SUNY Cortland Alumni Association board member.
Umansky and Silver joined forces to solve the problem last spring. Because of their work, SUNY Cortland students now have the opportunity, regardless of their means, to dress like the ambitious professionals they will soon become.
They can simply visit Dragons Dress for Success, the College’s new career clothing closet, based at the offices of the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) in Corey Union, Room 215.
Starting on Monday, Jan. 28, Dragons Dress for Success will let SUNY Cortland students make selections from donated suits and blazers and shirts and skirts.
They can keep anything they like.
The professional clothing closet is open to students looking for just the right professional outfit from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays during the semester. The service is offered through the SGA, NYPIRG and Career Services and will be run by student interns for NYPIRG and the Institute for Civic Engagement. Members of the Fashion Club have offered to make sure the clothing is in good shape.
Umansky is most grateful that NYPIRG donated the space so the clothing items don’t need to be rolled out into a hallway every time Dragons Dress for Success is open.
The campus community and alumni can bring or send their gift of clothing to Corey Union, Room 217, during open hours starting Jan. 28.
The SGA/NYPIRG will accept business suits, dress shirts, slacks, skirts, ties, dress shoes and jewelry. All items must be cleaned thoroughly and delivered, preferably on hangers. Items with any kind of damage will not be accepted.
Umansky will be glad to answer any questions about Dragons Dress for Success. She can be reached at 516-313-9059.
The professional clothing program builds on the success of prior projects to help financially disadvantaged students. One is the SUNY Cortland Cupboard, a pantry for food and necessities. With her keen eye for students in need, Silver was involved in the pantry’s creation.
“It’s really exciting that already we have received a lot of positive feedback,” Umansky said. “I sit on the Faculty Senate and a bunch of members expressed interest and said they had items for the closet at the last Faculty Senate meeting of the semester.”
In December, Umansky reached out by email to the campus community and to alumni through Alumni Engagement, seeking donations.
Some Faculty Senate members presented items to Sophie at the SGA office located in Room 217. Others have pledged to bring back their undamaged and gently used former office attire when they return for the spring semester.
Alumni also are encouraged to keep the closet filled with lots of career-wear options for the students by bringing a gift of work apparel they no long need with them on their next visit to campus.
Umansky and Silver chanced upon the idea for a clothing closet at last spring’s SUNY Cortland Diversity Conference.
“There were two open seats at my table,” Umansky said. “So I asked the director of multicultural life and diversity (AnnaMaria Cirrincione), ‘Hey, are these seats available? Because I have two of my friends over there who would like to sit at my table.’ And she said, ‘Yes, these seats are open because, unfortunately, the two students were unable to make it because they could not afford to have nice, professional clothing for this event.’”
The event, which had served as a career networking opportunity with alumni speakers from the business community, called for business attire.
“To many of us, professional dress simply means black pants, turtle neck and scarf,” noted Silver, who was at the table.
“That really, really upset me that some students couldn’t be there, because I feel that your financial status, your apparel, should not affect your ability to make it to an event like this,” Umansky said.
“So that’s where I thought of the idea, ‘We have a food pantry on campus,’ and ‘I’m on the SUNY Student Assembly Executive Committee and I know a lot of other campuses are starting to build closets like this,’” Umansky said. “So I thought, ‘Why shouldn’t Cortland build a closet?’”
Umansky and Silver kept in touch as the student government official worked to solve the biggest part of the dilemma: where to house the clothing closet? They contacted SUNY Brockport and other colleges that offer similar programs to learn details. Most clothing closets track each piece of apparel, which after use must be returned by the student in clean condition.
“I don’t really like that concept,” Umansky. “Yes, it’s a really nice start. But if we’re in a position to give it away and it fits nice, why not? Why not give it to someone in need and let them keep it forever?”
In September, SGA executive board members met at a retreat in Raquette Lake and added the clothing closet to their list of priority accomplishments for the coming year.
“The closet provides a way for students to access free professional attire appropriate for career fairs, interviews, internships and the workplace,” Umansky said. “Our goal is to help Red Dragons look their best throughout their job search so they can make a positive impression as they enter the professional world.
“The Diversity Conference was definitely the most important experience that I’ve had with clothing insecurity, but it’s not the first time I’ve noticed that on campus,” she said. “It’s not just among students from diverse backgrounds. It’s students with insufficient clothing for job opportunities.”
For alumni like Silver, donating to the closet is just another way of giving back.
“This is who I am,” Silver said. “Isn’t that what life is about. To make the world a better place for the next generation? Maybe you have to do it one student at a time.”