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Cornell University

Spotlight of Student Organizations: Cornell Wardrobe

Wardobe Group Shot

Cornell Wardrobe, a student-run organization, is dedicated to “helping any student pursue any opportunity” by reducing barriers to employment, club interviews, on-campus networking events, and the like posed by a lack of professional clothing.

“This is a serious issue that not many schools realize,” says Sarah Kim ‘23, Wardrobe’s president. “Cornell [students] determined this problem and we created a solution.”

Cornell Wardrobe has a two-pronged approach to their mission: a bi-annual Pop-Up Shop and clothing available for rent. The Pop-Up Shop is an opportunity for students to get, for free, pre-owned and new professional clothing that they can keep. Wardrobe’s rental program provides professional clothing to students, for any occasion, and handles the cleaning between rentals – in-house most often, but sending it to professional cleaners when necessary.

wardrobe pop up
Pop-Up Shop

Inventory is currently 223 products including, button-up shirts, blazers, suit sets, blouses, ties, belts and dresses. Students can request items online typically receiving a response in 24 hours, says Stratton Papakirk ’22, the groups vice president.

Once a rental is packed by the Wardrobe team, the renter can pick up the item at their convenience in Barnes Hall at Cornell Career Services, which has partnered with Wardrobe to make these items available at a central, easily accessible location on campus.

The clothing is either donated directly or purchased with financial gifts from individuals and corporations. Most often, Wardrobe acquires clothing by purchasing them with the aid of financial contributions which allows the group to buy neutral, classic items – in black, gray, and white hues – most suitable for interviews and professional events.
As of May 2022, the organization has raised over $32,000 from grants and online crowdfunding that engaged over 100 donors since its founding nearly five years ago. From its beginning, Wardrobe has given away over 1,500 pieces of professional attire at their bi-annual Pop-Ups, and during the Spring 2022 semester, rented out over 300 pieces of clothing to more than 200 students.

"I was once notified via email that I had just 12 hours to complete a recorded video interview for my dream company. I was already on campus and hadn’t dressed in professional attire for the day, so I felt unprepared and desperate for other options. Luckily, I was able to contact a member of The Wardrobe, who graciously dressed and fitted me shortly after. I ended up being able to complete the interview with a few hours to spare, and I have The Wardrobe to thank for getting invited back for a super day!" – Anonymous renter

Wardrobe is proud to have repeat customers and regularly seeks their feedback to better understand student need. For some, need arises due to limited luggage space when coming to campus while others face timing or financial needs.

Wardrobe Look Book
Wardrobe photoshoot

As an anonymous student writes, "As an international student trying to minimize his luggage, packing a suit completely slipped my mind. When I found out I needed to take my senior portrait, I was worried I would not find a suit in time. But The Wardrobe came to my rescue, and now I have a photo in a suit that I can include in the yearbook to commemorate my time at Cornell. The Wardrobe is a great resource for all students, and I highly recommend it!"
According to Stratton, “Word of mouth is huge. The group hands out quarter cards and posts about upcoming events on their social media platforms.”

In addition to Barnes Hall, Cornell Wardrobe also actively partners with school/college career service centers, student organizations, and professors, often giving presentations about dressing for success and services their organization offers. Student organization recruitment season gives the group more opportunities to speak with students who want to help the mission and students seeking the organization’s help – and students who fall into both categories.
Mia Ferraina, Public Service Careers Coach with Cornell Career Services, mentors The Wardrobe leadership team and helps them to make system improvements. “I admire the group’s efforts to constantly refine their services,” she says. “They often seek feedback from students on how to make The Wardrobe as useful as possible, and have accepted multiple suggestions from me to help make the service more inclusive.”  

Wardrobe Look Book
Wardrobe's Lookbook

The group is updating their Look Book to make rentals more accessible. Mia also guides the group on initiatives to be more inclusive. Sarah shared that, after a discussion with Mia about how strongly gendered clothing language often is, the group is actively working to limit gendered language.
“We’re being [more] aware of the wording that we’re choosing to describe the professional attire we’re promoting – whether it’s fitted, hourglass shape, or a straight look – so that our customers can identify more easily what they will be comfortable in,” Sarah says. “We want everyone to feel confident at the end of the day when they wear our clothes.”

Making all of this possible is a team of 30 club members organized into five functional teams: Operations, Technology, Marketing, Finance, and Events. And while these students support the broad community, they are also dedicated to supporting one another’s personal and professional growth, among them leadership, networking, and technical skills. The group is organized into supportive families and lineages; mentorship occurs between bigs and littles.
For Sarah and Stratton, one focus is to continue building an internal collaborative environment. Internal workshops offer members a chance to learn more about the job search process. Further, its alumni network is vast and diverse – Nordstrom, Bloomingdales, McKinsey, to name a few, and it is supportive and involved with the club. Donations and internships are a byproduct of these relationships.

“As a sophomore transfer coming to Cornell, I had never given thought to the networking events I would end up attending. The Wardrobe helped me land my summer internship and continues to help me in fulfilling various professional needs on campus!”

As the Wardrobe continues to grow its presence, Cornell students will continue to benefit. “If someone wants to strive for professional opportunities, they shouldn’t be held back [by a lack of clothing],” Stratton says. Sarah agrees and adds, “The ultimate end goal is for the Wardrobe to not exist at the end of the day, that everyone has what they need and they feel confident to pursue any opportunity.”

On Friday, Dec. 2 from 2:15-4:30 p.m., Cornell Wardrobe will host its bi-annual Pop-Up Shop at the Physical Sciences Building.