With Fall Commencement comes a great deal of ceremony: cap and gown, “Pomp and Circumstance” and the speeches of proud faculty and peers. It’s a thoroughly fancy affair – a dignified send-off to four long years of hard work and memories.
While it marks the end of the class of 2023’s college years, it’s only the beginning of a life of formalities.
The professional world is a world not too unlike graduation, despite the etiquette varying from field to field. It’s filled with ceremony, tradition and style. Without a sleek suit and a winning smile, you might be fighting an uphill battle.
The latter can be taught. The former, though? That’s something you have to buy, which can be a problem for students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Around Muncie, however, there are initiatives that can help those students build a professional wardrobe. Cardinal Closet is one of those programs, offering free business attire and work clothes to students of Ball State University.
Located on campus at Park Hall, the program overseen by the Student Action Team (SAT). Through grant money and donations, they supply students with professional clothing entirely for free, with each able to take up to three items per visit.
Chandlar Williams, president of SAT, said she takes a great deal of pride in the program. She sees it as a way to level an uneven playing field.
“[What] people don’t understand is professional attire is meant to be complicated because it has a history of classist and racist connotations,” Williams said. “One of the reasons we have Cardinal Closet is to break down those barriers by providing free and accessible clothing. When I can educate people on what [professional attire] looks like, they’re able to pull things from their closet, not spend as much money and feel excited for their career.”
Another free resource on campus is The Lavender Door, a clothing resource particularly aimed at providing gender-affirming clothing for LGBTQ+ students. It’s located in the Multicultural Center, and students can schedule a 30-minute appointment on Ball State’s website.
Daniel Todd is a staff member at Lavender Door and said that the resource was created by a former member of the Student Affairs Administration and Higher Education masters program (SAAHE), Mack Yohe. When they realized there wasn’t anything similar that catered to LBGTQ+ students, Yohe began taking note of what other campuses were doing.
The Lavender Door is completely donation-based, so the majority of the clothing they have available is more casual, however, they do get more formal and professional pieces on occasion.
“We also try to assess, when students finish using the resource, what kinds of things they were looking for that maybe they didn’t find or want to see more variety and such,” Todd said.
Like Cardinal Closet, Lavender Door can help those entering the professional world who may not be as advantaged as some of their peers. They also allow students to utilize the closet privately, without fear of running into someone they know, which makes it exclusively accessible to those who are not out.
“LGBT+ students, in general, tend to be a lot more socioeconomically disadvantaged, so number one, being able to provide those resources for free is very helpful, especially for those who may be in the midst of some sort of gender transition and looking for a way to change up their whole closet or change up their style a little bit,” Todd said. “For LGBT+ students, it’s a really important resource.”
While the closet was created with LGBTQ+ students in mind, it’s open to all students, no matter how they identify.
“One thing that we’ve been trying to emphasize as the years go on is that gender-affirming clothing is for everyone,” Todd said. “Even if you were assigned female at birth, you still identify as a female, you have a very feminine gender expression, we still got stuff for you.”
Another resource that can be found across the country, and even internationally, is Goodwill. Muncie is currently home to two locations of the nonprofit chain store, and they are both a short drive for students who have access to transportation.
Maria Smith is a Goodwill manager at the location on Hessler Road in Muncie and has worked for the company for 10 years.
“It’s probably a third, or even less, than the price of regular clothing or business attire that you would buy full price in a retail store,” Smith said. “It’s definitely more affordable, is the number one thing, but also it’s keeping things out of the landfill which will help everything in the long run.”
While Munice has various places to shop for affordable business clothes, Goodwill is a much larger company and tends to have a higher variety of clothing as well as more resources. Smith finds professional attire coming in on a daily basis.
“I know [Muncie] has a few other businesses that you can get affordable attire from, however, we try very hard to push quality,” Smith said. “So nothing holey or ripped or stained, whereas the other businesses may not.”
With the various resources, both on campus and in the community, graduating students transitioning to a more professional wardrobe without worrying about the cost.
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