To many outsiders, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are seen as “extra”. Students wake up and put on their very best every day, their hair must stay on point and females must rock a full face of makeup or else they are not up-to-par. Lately, many African-American students who attend Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs) have been seen on social media saying things such as they could never attend an HBCU because they couldn’t dress up every day. Is this accurate? Do HBCU students feel pressure to achieve a certain standard of style?
There are many HBCUs that have students who have become known for how they dress. For example the men of Morehouse are generalized as dawning business casual looks and keeping it very professional as well as schools such as Hampton University where some students will tell you attending events are like attending a fashion show. It is difficult to generalize an entire school’s population as “fashionable” but attending an HBCU does mean you are diving into a deep pool of African-American culture. Along with Chicken Wednesdays, Fish Fridays, football games and Greek life, one is also signing up for meeting black students from all over the United States. This creates an environment of different definitions of style coming together as one and definitely is a large part of HBCU life.
Contrary to popular belief, there are days where you will see students in oversized T-shirts and sweatpants on an HBCU campus but most students can be seen in all types of outfits from revamped items from the ’90s giving you ‘A Different World’ vibe all the way to professional wear like suits with creative new flares such as patterns and pops of color. Even though they are on a student’s budget, they find a way to make it work and stand out in ways that express their unique style.
Back in April, when Beyonce took the stage for her headlining Coachella performance, she exposed her fans to the exciting world of HBCUs and Black Greek Letter Organizations (BGLO) with a show inspired by HBCU culture. Beyonce made sure to highlight many styles and costumes that define these campuses and made them “iconic”. Her global demographic now is inspired by these trends originated on HBCU campuses. This was a major moment of recognition for HBCU students everywhere knowing their style and efforts are recognized by someone as famous as Beyonce.
A quote by American playwright George C. Wolfe, which is posted in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, reads, “God created black people and black people created style.” Historically, African Americans have created a culture of fashion in times with little to no means. With this, they learned quickly to mix and match their clothing to create innovative outfits, some even designing their own clothes. Students can feel more comfortable wearing their hair in ethnic hairstyles without fear of a negative impact on how others perceive them. Attending an HBCU, one must be prepared to be surrounded by not only current rising fashion trends but African-American students embracing their culture through fashion as well. It is a reflection of who they are and they are encouraged to wear whatever makes them feel more comfortable in their skin without judgment.