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Clark College collects career clothing to outfit students for the job search

By , Columbian Education Reporter
Published: April 13, 2016, 6:08am
5 Photos
A sandwich board at Clark College announces the Career Clothing Closet, which provides students with professional clothing for job interviews and their careers. (Natalie Behring/The Columbian)
A sandwich board at Clark College announces the Career Clothing Closet, which provides students with professional clothing for job interviews and their careers. (Natalie Behring/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

When Clark College students meet with employers at the college’s career fair, they will have been coached on developing a résumé, cover letter and interview skills. But many students won’t have professional clothing to wear for a job interview.

A two-day Career Clothing Closet prior to the Clark College Career Fair is one solution to that dilemma faced by cash-strapped students. Clark’s Career Services collects new and gently used professional work attire for men and women to outfit students who are seeking jobs. The clothing is provided to students at no charge, said Sharron Orr, program assistant in Career Services.

“Most students are used to dressing casual, but when you go into an interview, it’s important to create a positive first impression,” said Nick Ashitey-Kendrich, a Clark College student who volunteers as a men’s stylist for the clothing closet.

On April 21 and 22, a space in the Penguin Union Building will be transformed into a boutique complete with racks of clothing, shoes and accessories, dressing rooms and volunteer stylists to help each student put together an outfit.

The clothing is available only for Clark College students on a first-come, first-served basis. Each student is allowed one complete outfit, which may include shirt, suit, pants or skirt, tie, shoes and accessories like belts, scarves, jewelry and bags.

Clark College Career Clothing Closet

 Purpose: Clark College students can select a professional outfit at no cost for their career search.

 What to donate: New and gently used, freshly laundered career clothing including shoes, belts and bags for women and men.

 When to donate: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to noon Friday. Donations accepted year-round.

 Where to donate: Clark College Career Services, Penguin Union Building lower level, 1933 Fort Vancouver Way, Vancouver.

 Information: Sharron Orr at 360-992-2517 or

 On the Web:

Although hundreds of clothing items already have been donated, Orr is looking for more.

“The more the better,” she said.

Career Services is accepting new or gently used professional, workplace-appropriate clothing for men and women. All clothing should be in excellent condition and freshly laundered or dry cleaned.

Orr noted that dressing for a job interview has changed over the years. No longer is a suit and dress shirt appropriate interview attire for all employers.

“That old rule of thumb that you can never overdress for an interview is not true anymore,” said Orr. “It’s really important for students to research who they want to work for. Do employees dress in suits and ties or do they dress casually?”

Orr said students also should consider their own personality in choosing career clothing.

Standing among neat stacks of men’s suits, dress shirts and slacks, Ashitey-Kendrich said he helps students find clothing that fits their personality.

Orr noted the importance of accessories.

“Shoes, belts, scarves, necklaces — those are the finishing touches that help pull it together,” said Orr, who has spent between five and 10 hours per week organizing the donated clothing.

Some dry cleaners have donated unclaimed professional clothing. One person donated 150 pairs of shoes, 300 scarves and 97 purses.

The need

The need for professional clothing is real. Career clothing, particularly suits, can cost hundreds of dollars. Clark College students spend about $4,000 per year on tuition for 15 credits. Textbooks and supplies for a year of community college average about $1,770, according to the College Board. In the metro area, market-rate rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,021 per month. Add all that up, and college students working at $9.67 minimum-wage jobs are cash strapped. After tuition, books and bills, there isn’t money left to buy a suit or work shoes.

At last year’s Career Clothing Closet, 750 students selected professional work attire. That’s only about 5 percent of Clark’s 13,000 student enrollment, Orr noted.

Career Services started collecting clothing year round last year. That’s helped to build a robust inventory for the two-day clothing event.

“Some students show up apprehensive, but we spend time with them until they can find something that fits perfectly,” Ashitey-Kendrich said. “Everybody who shows up has something to take home.”

At last year’s Clothing Closet, Orr recalled, a woman with a new baby spent two hours putting together a professional outfit. Later, the student arrived at Career Day ready to meet potential employers. She was wearing her new outfit and told Orr: “I wouldn’t be here without this outfit. I wouldn’t have felt I could come.”