A new ‘Suit Yourself’ closet on the MCV Campus helps job seekers find the right look

The closet, run by the VCU Career Services office, is the second at the university and is stocked with business clothes for students to use as they apply for residencies, jobs, internships and fellowships.

Sonya Lamb Barnes at the Suit Yourself closet on the MCV Campus. [View Image] Sonya Lamb Barnes at the Suit Yourself closet on the MCV Campus. (Kevin Morley, University Marketing)

Sonya Lamb Barnes, the manager of the new Suit Yourself clothes closet on the MCV Campus and assistant director of health sciences career advising with Virginia Commonwealth University Career Services, believes dressing stylishly and professionally has the potential to launch careers.

Wearing a suit, tie, blouse or dress — and wearing it well — plays a key role in securing a residency, internship, rotation, fellowship or job, sometimes as much as earning a degree or networking. But it is not always possible for students on a budget to acquire a pricey professional wardrobe that conveys their worth and readiness for the job market.

That’s where the Suit Yourself closet and Lamb Barnes come in. The closet, which recently opened on the second floor of the Hunton Student Center, is stocked with about a half-dozen racks of men’s and women’s business-style clothing. These items are free to students and the closet is open from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Evening appointments are available by request to accommodate the busy schedules of MCV students. Appointments are arranged through Handshake. The MCV closet is VCU’s second; the university already had a Suit Yourself closet on the Monroe Park Campus. The new site helps health sciences students save time and money. Students may access the resource two times a month and receive four items at each appointment.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions and as a way to embrace VCU's diverse student population, staff at the Suit Yourself Closet implemented a pre-appointment questionnaire that asks students to indicate the type of clothing they need, the professional setting and their desired sizes. Additionally, students have the option of indicating if they would prefer gender neutral clothing. Clothing options are selected for the students because they are unable to try on clothes on-site. 

Lamb Barnes said she is happy to work with students to talk through their options and even help them determine what size they think they are. 

“A young lady that came in had questions about what is considered business casual, what is professional dress, and we had that conversation, said Lamb Barnes, who also is willing to discuss with students other professional workplace questions such as hairstyles and religious garb as well as tattoos. “Some students, especially on this campus because they wear scrubs and uniforms all the time, are not as familiar with appropriate professional dress for interviews, networking sessions or other professional settings.”

Lamb Barnes also worked with Ash Taylor-Beierl, job location and development coordinator with VCU Career Services who manages the Suit Yourself closet on the Monroe Park Campus, to create a gender inclusive style guide for business dress, including how to navigate a gender neutral approach.

All of the clothing in the closet has been donated. Lamb Barnes said she is accepting more donated business-style clothing to address student needs, including petite and plus sizes as well as accessories.

Lamb Barnes says she enjoys bringing out the best in VCU students. Helping them navigate decisions about how to dress professionally — and providing guidance and the resources that students need to be the best professionals they can be — is especially rewarding.

“Having a professional outward appearance builds up that confidence so you can put forth your best self in the interview,” said Lamb Barnes, who is especially committed to helping underrepresented groups on the medical campus. “There are already so many other obstacles and hurdles in terms of making sure you fit in, that making the right impression, getting your foot in the door and having the right attire helps.” 

To donate to the Suit Yourself clothes closet or set up a clothing drive, contact Sonya Lamb Barnes by email at slbarnes@vcu.edu or by phone at (804) 828-6236.

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