How One Clothing Closet Seeks to Ease Financial Burden for Students

By Jack Rhodes 

Mary Ziegler, a student at the University of Georgia, knows the need for professional clothing all too well after going through numerous job interviews, information sessions and career fairs before ultimately receiving her first offer.

“I felt like I was wearing business clothes more than I was wearing my everyday clothes,” said Ziegler, a management and information systems major. “I often would find myself having to borrow clothes from friends because I felt like I couldn’t wear the same outfit to every interview but then I would just run out of clothes.”

Ziegler’s dilemma is common for many students trying to enter the professional world. Whether it is for an upcoming interview, an internship or the first job out of college, having the proper clothes is crucial and can come with a hefty price. In 2021, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the average American spends $1,754 per year for apparel and services.

Some universities and colleges have created a possible solution, such as the Student Government Association Professional Clothing Closet at UGA, to ease the financial burden of dressing for success by providing free professional attire to students.

Sydney Benson, executive director of the clothing closet, said the resource was created after identifying the need among students for professional — but affordable — clothes. It opened in fall 2019, and with offices reopening following pandemic shutdowns, there has been a “push to go back to business professional,” Benson said. In October 2021, the closet served its 500th student.

The clothing closet allows students to receive one free, new or gently used, professional outfit per academic year. The clothes mainly come from donations by alumni, parents, students and faculty.

UGA’s clothing closet offers two ways for students to request and receive their outfit. The clothing closet’s website leads students through steps to pick out their outfit and submit an order online. The website provides instructions for students to measure themselves if they are not sure on the correct sizing. The second option is to schedule an in-person appointment where they will be sized and then given the option to pick out their next outfit.

Kevin Ellis, a marketing professor at UGA, runs an annual sales competition for students in the Terry College of Business. This experience, along with his own career in sales, has shown him the importance of looking the part for the job you want.

“When in Rome do what the Romans do,” Ellis said, referring to navigating the dress code at any given job. “But you’ve got to get there first and to get there first, be dressed for that interview.”

Ellis’ advice to anyone going into their first interview or job is, “you can always dress down but you can’t necessarily dress up.”

While the outfit you wear is not everything when trying to get, or keep, a job it plays a factor. The clothing closet will continue to do what is needed to provide students with professional outfits, Benson said.

“It feels like a way to directly give back to students at UGA and when I came to Athens that is what I was looking for,” she said.


Jack Rhodes is a journalism student at the University of Georgia.

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