‘Cats Closet provides free professional clothing, aims to increase interview accessibility


Danny Vesurai / The Daily Northwestern

Donated clothes for ‘Cats Closet stored in an interview room. Northwestern Career Advancement this quarter launched the service to provide free professional attire and increase accessibility for interviews.

Danny Vesurai, Reporter

Northwestern Career Advancement this quarter launched ‘Cats Closet, a service that provides students free access to professional attire and aims to ensure students aren’t deterred from pursuing interviews or career opportunities because of clothes.

Undergraduate and graduate students can pick three items or one two-piece suit to take each academic year, said Kim Corbin, NCA’s assistant director of employer recruiting. She said some students “couldn’t believe” the clothes were free and didn’t have to be returned, which is why she thinks many who have used the service are so grateful for it.

So far, 138 students have used the service, more than what NCA initially anticipated, said Geni Harclerode, the office’s director of employer recruitment and engagement.

“We’ve been really excited to see the number of students who have taken advantage of it,” she said.

Harclerode said she’d heard stories of students who self-selected out of opportunities because they didn’t feel like they had something to wear — one student bought something outside of their price range, tucked in tags at the career event and then returned the clothing after.

SESP senior Madeline Meyer said she thought the Closet is a great resource and hopes more students will learn about and use. Meyer, an NCA career ambassador, said she used it to get a business shirt for an interview.

“When you have companies demand or expect you dress a certain way and you don’t have the economic resources, NCA is here to make sure you have all the tools you need to be successful in your interviews,” she said.

The opening of the Closet has also allowed NCA staff to interact with and advise students in a different setting where they can tailor their advice to specific interviews and situations, Corbin and Harclerode said. Staff can help explain concepts — like what business casual constitutes — that students might not understand.

“It’s been fun to talk to students and cheer them on as they’re preparing for what’s next and also talk to them about professional attire,” Harclerode said, “because for a lot of students this is the very first time they might be stepping out to do something that would require more professional dress.”

The service follows a student initiative a few years ago called NU Threads, where students could borrow professional attire for interviews. Corbin said ‘Cats Closet is still a separate entity and operates differently because students don’t need to return clothes, but the Closet pays a kind of “homage” to NU Threads, which became dormant after its organizers graduated.

All clothes in the Closet are donated and mostly come from faculty, alumni and other members of the Northwestern community, Corbin said. Over this past spring and summer, Corbin started gathering clothes and planning the service’s launch.

This fall, the Closet wasn’t an actual physical space and operated as a pop-up in an NCA conference or interview room. When not operating, clothes would be stored in unused spaces at the NCA office.

Student Enrichment Services director Kourtney Cockrell said she appreciated NCA supporting low-income students, something she hopes more parts of the University will focus on.

“NCA is a fabulous partner and I love that they continue thinking about how to support all students and certainly low-income students,” she said. “Any added expense around clothing is a significant burden.”

Corbin and Harclerode said they hope ‘Cats Closet will continue to expand, eventually getting its own permanent space and partnering with companies to receive donated clothes.

“I have big plans for ‘Cats Closet,” Corbin said, laughing. “We’re doing our very best to keep it accessible and meet demands.”

Alex Wong contributed reporting.

Email: dvesurai@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @dvesurai