Dressing for Success for Free

SIFE’s Suit-A-Bull drive begins Nov. 21, runs through Nov. 30.


By Barbara Melendez

     USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (Nov. 21, 2011) – Do you have a job interview or special occasion and nothing to wear? USF Students in Free Enterprise may be able to come to your rescue. The organization’s Suit-a-Bull project is lending suits to students in need – for free. 


And more gently-used business attire for men and women is needed – two-piece suits, shirts, blouses and ties included, in petite and larger sizes in particular. To address this need, a special suit drive is being held from Nov. 21 through Nov. 30 so that there will be more selections in the Suit-a-Bull Lending Closet for the growing number of students requesting this assistance. For more information, please contact the Suit-a-Bull project leader Aimee Phipps at aimeep@mail.usf.edu or USF SIFE Executive Director Katharine Gonzalez at katharine@mail.usf.edu.


“Each semester we have increased the number of students coming in,” Gonzalez said. "Last fall we had only 10 students, by the spring we had 40. This fall we had 54 we provided professional attire for and 12 we had to turn away as we could not accommodate their needs.”


Current students and those who are within six months of having graduated are eligible. They need only leave a driver’s license or school ID while the clothing is checked out and must return the articles in the same condition.


Victoria Reeves, a SIFE member, shows a student how to tie a tie.

Suit-a-Bull is located on the second floor of the USF Tampa bookstore next to the Barnes and Noble Café, thanks to General Manager Nick Fagnoni. Hours of operation are Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and from 4 to 5 p.m.  Suit-a-Bull is also open on the day of the Career Center’s career fairs, opening one hour before the fair and closing one hour after the fair ends. These times are subject to change for next semester so it is suggested that students email SIFE in advance. Many of the suits came from Dress for Success of Tampa Bay and from the company Tom James.


The Suit-a-Bull project was the brainchild of Drema Howard, director of the USF Career Center. She started working with a 2006 SIFE team to give away donated suits. To make the program more sustainable, they decided it made more sense to lend the suits and began doing so last year.


“We know that wearing a suit to an interview or a career fair is critical for making a positive impression,” Howard said. “Suit-a-Bull makes it possible for students that don’t own, or may not be able to afford a suit, to borrow one. This is one more way we can all help our students succeed.”


Dameion Lovett, SIFE USF advisor who serves as assistant director of University Scholarships and Financial Aid Services added, “The transition to the job market is something they often don’t think about until they land that all-important interview and then think, ‘what am I going to wear?’ in a panic. When they’re facing paying off student loans and buying books and just surviving from day to day, they can get pretty stressed out about not having the clothes they need to make the best impression.”


Gonzalez said, “Our Suit Closet gives them the ability to put their jitters to rest. Then they just need to focus on impressing the recruiter and landing the job.”


Thang "Ryan" Nguyen knows about that kind of stress. He saw the banner for Suit-a-Bull in the bookstore and on SIFE’s Facebook page. He decided to use the service for a Federal Credit Union networking event.


“Before the event, I was very nervous because I had never worn a suit before,” the freshman business major said. “However, the Suit Closet's staff did help me in choosing a suit, and they also gave me some advice for the event.  


“It was not only about the suit, it was also about the motivation. This was the first time I wore a suit and also the first time I met with business people, and Suit-a-Bull gave me that opportunity to do the first important thing in my career.”


Katelyn Brennan learned about Suit-a-Bull in her University Experience class from Shawna Grant who runs the Bulls Business Community (BBC). As a member of the BBC, she has the opportunity to attend an annual networking event at Grow Financial to help prepare for the business world.


“The dress was business professional which meant I needed a suit, which I couldn't afford at the time,” she said. “It worked out great. The people were great, very helpful. I found something that fit me even though I wasn't sure if they would because I'm rather small. It made me feel more confident going into the event knowing I was wearing what was expected of me.”


Gonzalez says the project has received “great feedback. Some of the students have told us that because of being able to obtain a suit from us, they were able to secure multiple job interviews. One student was even able to secure three job offers. He borrowed from us each time he had a job interview lined up.”


From the moment the program started, Gonzalez has been touched by the response.


“I felt honored to be able to help students fulfill a dream of theirs. Being there to hear their stories and how much going into the Career Fair meant to them was awe-inspiring. Then hearing back from them and knowing that they were able to secure a job was even better. The students are so appreciative that we have been there for them. With the economy being in such dire straits as it has been, it is so difficult for college students to be able to afford such an important item as a suit.”


Barbara Melendez can be reached at 813-974-4563.