Student Jonah Luna tries on a new tie at West Los Angeles College's free wardrobe shop.(Photos courtesy of Larry Gordon/EdSource)
When Jonah Luna needed dress shirts for his career program at West Los Angeles College, he didn’t have to leave campus. And it didn’t cost him anything either.
He simply shopped at the school’s new wardrobe store that gives away donated professional clothing such as suits, dresses, shirts, ties and shoes to students who may be interviewing for jobs, taking on internships or starting careers.
The amply stocked West Wardrobe store on the community college campus is part of a statewide and national trend that seeks to meet students’ basic needs beyond financial aid for tuition.
Food pantries and emergency grants for students’ housing or other crises were among the first such responses. In the past few years, schools began hosting free clothes shops for job-level attire. The one at West Los Angeles opened in February and gives clothes, shoes and purses to about 20 students a day.
Many students could not afford the nice clothes they needed for interviews, job fairs and work, according to Trish Limbaugh, West Wardrobe’s founder and wife of the college president, James Limbaugh. So the college — which is in the Baldwin Hills about five miles north of LAX — decided to lend a hand, she explained.
“The point is to say we want to help you to succeed. And that doesn’t stop with a degree. It stops with life success in my mind,” she said as shoppers stopped by between classes to select ties and pick out pants. Nice clothes “builds their pride and builds their self-worth,” added Limbaugh, a former art instructor at Frostburg State University in Maryland.
As at other colleges, the initial main donors of apparel were faculty and staff. Now that has expanded to civic, business and church groups who collect clothes for the school, often from retired people who no longer need an upscale work wardrobe. All the items are supposed to be cleaned beforehand, although Trish Limbaugh has been known to personally wash and dry clean some at home if they need a touch up. Volunteers and work-study students sort through the piles, tag them and display them on racks and shelves.