​​​​​As the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression.

But for many students, investing in a suit or a dress for job interviews or a career fair simply isn't affordable, especially if they're receiving financial aid or experiencing food insecurity and housing displacement.

That's why a number of CSU campuses are now offering so-called "clothing closets" stocked with professional clothing that any student can take at no cost, helping to ease some of the pressure of job-hunting on students making the transition to the world of work.​

How It Works​

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Cal Poly Pomona's Clothes Closet, which opened in 2011, offers students up to four items of clothing every quarter (a suit is considered one item). At Fresno State's Clothing Closet, which opened in March 2016, students can take three pieces of clothing, as well as accessories such as ties, scarves, jewelry and socks.

The closets are sustained through donations from faculty, staff, students, and community organizations. At Cal Poly Pomona, local employers put on clothing drives to collect donations for the school's clothing closet.

Fresno State works with local thrift stores to swap clothing to ensure their "store" has enough sizes for students. Moving forward, the campus hopes to work with non-profit and professional organizations as well as its alumni association to receive more donations. CSU San Bernardino's Professional Clothing Closet also receives donations from the campus community; both students and alumni can take clothing at no charge.

Some campuses offer students more than just something to wear; they also hold "dress for success" workshops. CSU Fullerton's new Tuffy's Closet, which opened in September 2016 and is run by the WoMen's and Adult Reentry Center, is partnering with the campus career center to teach students how to prepare for interviews.

At Fresno State, their workshops also include a fashion show with clothing taken directly from the closet and provide other information on interview preparation, such as how to do make-up and tie a tie. ​

Connecting to Student Success

The closets fill a need deeper than just helping students look good for a job fair or interview; they help to build self-confidence and take away one more worry.

"The campus mission is student success," says Debbie Young, interim director of the Career Development Center at Fresno State, noting that helping students stay in college, graduate, and launch a career is a strategic priority for the campus and the CSU. "By providing professional clothing, we're helping students transition to a professional career, ultimately leading to student success."

Just looking for work is anxiety-provoking for most people, and perhaps even more so for students who are new to the process. Being able to navigate an interview or recruiting event feeling self-assured can relieve some of that stress.

"Some students don't have enough money to pay for a suit, accessories and shoes to make sure they look their best. This is just one way to minimize that stressor and help them be confident so that they can maximize their opportunity," says Cheryl Love, Ph.D., a career counselor at the Career Center at Cal Poly Pomona.

Learning How to Manage

These clothing closets can also offer a useful teaching tool. At Fresno State, a faculty member uses the campus closet to help students learn and practice real-world non-profit management, fashion merchandising, operations management and marketing when they volunteer or intern there.

In this service learning project students might use sorting bins to organize clothing or find ways to improve the process of receiving clothes and other items.

Similarly, at Cal Poly Pomona, the clothes closet has become a part of a business simulation course for the school's degree in apparel merchandising management.

In studying operations management, student volunteers explore ways to streamline processes for managing the closet. In spring 2016, the first team redesigned the space itself; for the fall 2016 quarter, students implemented an information system to manage inventory.

The closet also has student interns who help with day-to-day management as well as social media and marketing to encourage more donations from the campus community, alumni and local employers.


Click here to read more stories in the "College to Career" series.