Jaslyn Dominique ’20 spent days perfecting her responses to the interview questions, had practiced her greeting and handshake and had even gone through the trouble of printing her resume on the thick paper in Olin. However, the day before the career fair Dominique had a sinking realization — she did not have anything to wear.
Specifically, Dominique lacked business professional clothing. As a result, she decided to miss out on the career fair altogether because, “I don’t want to be remembered as the black girl who wore business casual to a business professional event.”
Dominique’s problem is not unique. Through dialogue with lower income students, the Dyson Students of Color Coalition recognized that there was a need for access to affordable professional clothing, “many students have come to us asking for assistance with business clothes.” said Michelle Reiss ’20, one of the founding members of the Coalition.
Even after the DSCC directed students to different campus resources such as the The Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives, Financial Aid and the Dyson school administration, Reiss said “they would come back letting us know that no one was able to support them.” Dominique herself spent “three weeks trying to secure money to get business clothes.” But in the end, “none of them helped me.”
Thus, with the help of Cornell Thrift and funding from the Willard Straight Student Union Board, the idea of a pop-up shop was born. The pop-up shop will be held from 5-7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 29 in Willard Straight Hall.
Cornell Thrift members spent several hours scouring the racks of the local Ithaca Salvation Army store and a Goodwill location in NYC and compiled a “moderate amount” of blazers, shirts, pants, ties, skirts, dresses and some suits in a variety of sizes.
“Especially in Dyson, business clothes might as well be a textbook because it is necessary to pass certain classes,” Reiss noted. “Yes, it is expensive and not accessible to everyone, yet professors and clubs perpetuate a culture where it is assumed that all students can afford these items.”
However, the Dyson school isn’t the only program on campus with dress code requirements.
Caroline Creaser, a sophomore in the school of Hotel Administration, added that her school enforces a dress code for the Dean’s Distinguished Lecture Series, and students who do not meet the code criteria are penalized in their final grades. She emphasized that this is a beneficial requirement that is about making a good first impression. “Dressing appropriately creates a sense of confidence in your ability to perform while showing the utmost respect for the interviewer, speaker, or guest,” Creaser said. “When you dress for success, people focus on your message, not your wardrobe.”
Another student option is The Wardrobe, founded last year. It is a student-run organization that “provides free professional business clothing to students on campus so that any student can pursue any opportunity,” according to the organization’s marketing director Julia Gleason ’20.
“We found that two-thirds of undergraduate students had felt underdressed in a professional setting. One-third of students didn’t attend an interview or information session because of lack of professional clothing,” Gleason said. “The problem is the same across gender and graduation year. Of those without proper attire, 50 percent can’t afford it and 50 percent can’t fit it in luggage brought to campus.”
The Wardrobe follows two models in providing dress garments to the student body: the pop up shop and an online interface that allows students to rent clothing items for up to five days at a time.
The difference between the Wardrobe’s approach and that of Cornell Thrift is that for the event on Thursday, all the clothing is previously owned, whereas the Wardrobe has a mix of donated and newly purchased attire.
Depending on the success of the event, Reiss said that she hopes to continue hosting events like these in the future.
“We are hoping that this event is helpful to students and hopefully we receive more funding, more clothes, and eventually open up pop up shops for [other] things that might not be accessible to students, such as winter clothes,” she said. “To continue events like this would only help the Cornell community as a whole.”