By  on January 5, 1994

CHICAGO -- If you can get them when they're young, conventional wisdom says, you'll have your customers for life.

Two Midwest stores are putting that theory to the test with special programs targeting the youthful consumer-to-be. In-store wardrobe consultant Jill Friedman is the force behind a program targeting graduating college students at Carson Pirie Scott's newest store in Chicago's merchandise mart.

Friedman takes her know-how out of the store and into the field, making presentations at local college campuses on "dressing for success" -- looking your best at a job interview and building a career wardrobe on a limited budget.

Although the program only began in September, early signs indicate it's paying off. After presenting to three groups of about 50 students, 15 became Carson's customers, Friedman said, spending an average of $575 each.

Eight of those proteges have also opened Carson's charge accounts. "The first credit card is the one you will have for the rest of your life," she notes.

Friedman addresses both men's and women's career wardrobing needs and ranges literally from head to toe -- hairstyles to shoes. "I don't take anything for granted," she says.

She begins with the basics: How to choose a good suit. "I tell them to buy one good wool suit rather than two cheap polyester ones," Friedman says.

Students are also reminded of the big career no-no's: high heels, heavy perfume, red nail polish. She does allow for some flexibility depending on the job involved; retailing and accounting jobs call for different styles, she says.

Friedman is mindful that most students are on a tight budget and teaches an investment-dressing approach. "A graduating college student gets nervous at the thought of spending $300 for a suit, but I tell them it will last five years. Amortize it out and it's only $60 a year."

She also distributes a handout that shows women how to put together a suitable outfit, including hosiery and earrings, for $330, with the help of a 15 percent Carson's discount. Students can also get free consultations on skin care or makeup for interviews at Carson's Estee Lauder counter.

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