Sebastian’s Closet is officially closing its doors.
The Toppel Career Center program has been lending business clothing to help students find professional attire for five years, but the 2015 Student Government-inspired initiative is ending.
Carly Smith, career education director at Toppel, said the closet typically serviced about 200 students a semester, allowing them to rent one complete business outfit for seven days.
Housed at Toppel, the closet included professional attire in a range of sizes for men and women, from suits and ties to skirts and dresses. Most of the clothing was purchased by Toppel from JCPenney, along with some local donations. Students could access the closet to “shop” for clothes to wear to local interviews for internships and entry-level jobs.
“It was great for supporting students,” Smith said. “A lot of students don’t have disposable incomes for professional dress, and being able to provide options for them is very important.”
In the spring of 2020, Sebastian’s Closet temporarily shut down when the campus closed because of COVID-19. Smith said during the year and a half of remote learning, any students browsing clothes in the closet would have been put in an unsafe situation. During that time, Toppel staff reevaluated the program.
“We thought that it was probably in the best interest to shut down the closet,” Smith said. “Ultimately, you aren’t just going to have one interview; then, you’re going to start the job. So, it’s better to have things that you can keep for the long term.”
Smith said that his several new operations have already been started in its place. For about a year, students have been able to utilize Toppel’s partnership with retail store JCPenney. The Sebastian’s Closet Fund Scholarship provides up to $150 to students who work with the store’s staff to compile a professional wardrobe.
Another option for students is to utilize JCPenney’s Suit Up event, where Toppel provides students a 30% discount code to shop in the store’s collection. This event takes place in the fall and spring semesters, and the coupon code stays active for months.
Toppel is also launching a new partnership with the non-profits Dress for Success and Suited for Success. Dress for Success programs supply professional attire for women looking to enter or re-enter the workforce while Suited for Success supplies clothes for men. Smith said with proof of a job or interview, students can receive a referral from Toppel and then head to a local Dress for Success location to find clothing. She said the details of this initiative will appear soon on Toppel’s webpage.
“I know that some students will be upset because they liked the closet, but we are trying to find some alternatives for them,” Smith said.
Sophia Sturek, a junior studying media management and public relations, said she was sad to see Sebastian’s Closet go but glad to learn that Toppel will continue to offer students support.
“We all stress about jobs and internships, and deciding what to wear is just another added stress,” Sturek said. “I just started an internship, and it was hard for me to figure out what business casual means in Miami or find new brands of clothes that fit correctly.”
Despite the closure, the clothes formerly stored in Sebastian’s Closet will still be available for students on campus; the program has donated more than 300 items of clothing to UThrift, a free on-campus thrift swap.
UThrift Outreach Director Anna Olszewska said UThrift is thrilled to be receiving the donation.
“We are hoping that these clothes reach a new demographic, especially because we generally lack men’s clothing, and Sebastian’s Closet gave us a lot of those,” Olszewska said. “It’s a great opportunity to get people to thrift their business clothes instead of buying them new.”
UThrift plans to hold a Thrifty Business event on Monday, Dec. 6, to give out all the new donations. The event will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Westbrook Walkway. Anyone in attendance can take one free item, or trade in items for a one-for-one swap.
“Hopefully these people will become interested in UThrift with this event and start to use the popup as a resource,” Olszewska said. “This is just one more way to promote sustainability and keep our campus green.”