When I think of my fondest memories from college — Howard University to be specific — one of my favorite photos immediately comes to mind. In it is myself and about 10 other girls, squished in a small dorm room, surrounded by sizzling flat-irons, natural hair necessities, and troves of makeup. Sprawled across the pair of twin XL beds are the dozens of outfits that we had managed to pull together on an undergrad budget, as we sorted through the piles figuring out what missing pieces we could borrow from each other’s closets. 

The occasion we were preparing for was homecoming, and the snapshot is a perfect representation of just how seriously students from historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) take the celebration. When most think of homecoming, an annual weekend spree comprising a massive football game and tailgate comes to mind. But at an HBCU, homecoming means so much more. For almost a century the weeklong jubilee has served as a celebration of Blackness, reverence of tradition, and a reminder of just how far we’ve come as a people. Thousands of alumni, students, and friends gather for star-studded yardshows, high-intensity pep rallies, epic tailgates, and concerts that have drawn the likes of super-famous rappers and R&B stars. If you’ve ever stepped foot on an HBCU campus during the October festivities, you’ve felt that electrifying energy and you’ve seen the fashion trends that go on to permeate every aspect of the culture as we know it. 

The vast majority of HBCUs throw a blowout fashion show during the week as well. Usually occurring on Wednesday or Thursday, it serves as the catalyst for the larger-scale events that occupy the weekend. The major production often highlights Black designers, features student models, and serves as yet another avenue for the work of fashion majors to be showcased to a wider audience. Attendees show up in their best fits, often donning elaborate capes, larger-than-life hats, and museum-worthy jewelry. Fashion is an integral part of any HBCU homecoming. In fact, it may be one of the most important parts. 

But this year, things are a lot different. There will be no reunion brunches to plan, no running into old friends on the yard, no Greek step shows, and no scouring the internet for a week’s worth of outfits. However, HBCU alumni are still celebrating their alma maters, and they plan on doing so dressed to the nines — just like our ancestors would have wanted. Ahead, in partnership with Target, check out what five HBCU alumnae (myself included) are wearing this year to their distanced, virtual homecomings, how the celebration influences their fashion sense year-round, and how they’re coping with the major changes of 2020. 

Kai Deveraux Lawson
Howard University, class of 2010

What’s your favorite thing about homecoming? 
“Going back to a place I call home, seeing my friends, and spending time in places we used to frequent together.”

How are you celebrating homecoming this year? 
“I’m lucky to live in the same neighborhood with so many people from college and who are also in my same class. We’ll be spending what would have been our homecoming weekend together. Same people. Same love. Same laughter. Different places.”

How are you coping with this change? 
“It’s been difficult to cope with the change. This year would have been our 10 year reunion, and I feel like we’ve all been anticipating this since our five year reunion. The reality that an in-person homecoming wouldn’t be feasible was devastating, but my friends and classmates are beyond resilient, and we show up for each other when it counts. So, it’s been comforting to virtually connect with everyone through virtual calls and frequent group chats.”

What do you usually wear to homecoming? And how is your look changing this year?
“Howard’s homecoming is a week-long fashion show. So, whatever I wear has to be fly but also comfortable, because walking up the hill from Georgia Avenue to the yard is no joke.  My outfit must also showcase my Bison pride. At least one of my outfits will be centered around my favorite Howard tee or sweatshirt. My style won’t change this year even though I won’t be on the yard. I’ll definitely be putting on for The Real HU.” 

Why did you choose this outfit? 
“I’d describe my style as functionally fly. Homecoming is a series of all-day events and so the more wear I can get out of my outfit the better. I rely on my accessories to let my personality shine. For my look I chose a paperbag-waist pant as my base because they’re super comfortable and flattering on me. The basic white tee allows me to dress my look up or down depending on how my day evolves. My accessories pull my look together while giving me the flexibility to put on either a chic pair of pumps or a pair of fresh sneakers. Either way looks cute on or off a Zoom call.”

Shop Kai’s outfit:

Rugiatu Jalloh
Spelman College, class of 2016

What’s your favorite thing about homecoming? 
“The warm embrace you experience the entire weekend, being surrounded by the beautiful Black people you share memories with, and of course, the wave of nostalgia that hits from physically being back on campus.”

How are you celebrating homecoming this year? 
“I’m creating a playlist with songs that remind me of my years in Atlanta and having my college crew collaborate on it. We’re also planning a virtual cocktail hour to catch up and reminisce about past homecomings together.” 

How are you coping with this change? 
“I’m slightly regretful that I did not attend last year, but I’m still trying to make the best out of our virtual experiences. I am closely connected to my Spelman sisters in New York, which gives us an opportunity to share memories and our excitement for our future reunion and homecoming memories.”

What do you usually wear to homecoming? And how is your look changing this year?
“A lot of walking and dancing happens, especially during tailgating, which lasts for hours. I usually show up in jeans and a fun crop top, or a casual dress, with sneakers, a pair of sunglasses, and a water bottle. My homecoming attire is always centered around comfort and flexibility, and I usually wear neutrals with pops of color. This year, I’ll still be comfortable, but I’ll likely only have socks on — no sneakers needed.”

Why did you choose this outfit? 
“I chose this outfit because it balances style and comfort. My style is constantly evolving, but I’m currently investing in timeless pieces in neutral tones that can be mixed and matched. I’ve been adding touches of vibrancy through my accessories — large hoops or multi-colored drop earrings are my go-to when I want to enhance a basic sweater and bottoms.” 

Shop Rugiatu’s outfit:

Mikahila Bloomfield Linder
Hampton University, class of 2008

What’s your favorite thing about homecoming?
“Traditions — I have a picture of my best friends and I ‘crossing Ogden Circle’ on grad night. Returning to campus brings back those moments and memories from our time at Hampton. I’m also grateful for the professors I get to reconnect with when I’m back (if you had Dr. Ferdnance for Economics or Dr. Roy for History, you were woke before the kids called it ‘woke’). And I try to remember to bring a care package for the girls in my old dorm room at Twitchell Hall.”

How are you celebrating homecoming this year?
“I’m planning to visit one of my best friends from college. We will likely be hopping into several virtual kickbacks. I’m visiting her because she got a new job and will be moving soon. Right now, she lives in our college town, so it will be weird to be there without the usual homecoming festivities.”

How are you coping with this change?
“I only recently realized that I have mostly been self-isolating for the majority of this pandemic — not just social-distancing. But I’ve started to accept FaceTime calls and attend virtual happy hours — I now have several calendar bookings that say ‘Shots! Shots! Shots!’”

What do you usually wear to homecoming? And how is your look changing this year?
“My game day look typically involves what I like to call ‘understated overdressing.’ Since HU is in Virginia and it can be humid in October, I usually wear a skirt. I still remember what I wore in 2017: a waxed denim miniskirt, flat over-the-knee boots, and an HU foam finger. My style never changes — rain, wind, or pandemic. You can count on me to be in my best looks.”

Why did you choose this outfit?
“I’m absolutely obsessed with these white combat boots — I love to mix in pieces that toughen up a ladylike look. Instead of big statement earrings, I usually wear several delicate earrings that make a statement, so the huggie hoop set completes my look.”

Shop Mikahila’s outfit:

Blake Newby
Howard University, class of 2017

What’s your favorite thing about homecoming?
“Besides absolutely everything, I’d have to say that my favorite part of homecoming is the fellowship. I really don’t even refer to the celebration as ‘homecoming’ anymore, I call it a ‘reunion.’ It fills my heart each year to be surrounded with such love. I reminisce with friends I haven’t seen in some time, we fawn over how great each other looks, and make plans to catch-up after the weekend. We plan massive brunches where we drink mimosas like we’re in college and swag surf on the yard like we’re still in undergrad. It’s such a beautiful experience to know that every year I can count on at least four days of being around hundreds, even thousands of people all who share similar experiences.” 

How are you celebrating homecoming this year?
“I’ve spent the vast majority of quarantine in Washington, D.C., so I’ve decided to extend my time here until after ‘homecoming.’ Myself and five of my closest girlfriends from college have a brunch spot that we’ve loved since our time in undergrad, and luckily, they have a patio seating arrangement. We’ll sit out, reminisce, drink bellinis, and laugh until our stomachs hurt.”

How are you coping with this change? 
“I’m constantly reminding myself of how grateful and fortunate I am. Rather than wallowing in the fact that I won’t be celebrating in the way I usually do, I’m thanking the heavens that I’ve been gifted such an incredible group of friends from my time at Howard. Those are the same incredible women that I can’t wait to sit distanced from, reveling in memories and sisterhood. Homecoming might not be as massive as it usually is, but in times like these, not only during a pandemic, but during a time when the livelihood of our people is under attack, I’m fortunate to be in good health, safe, and still be surrounded by love — even if it’s from six feet away.” 

What do you usually wear to homecoming? And how is your look changing this year?
“I’m the first to admit that I’m the person who buys all new stuff for homecoming. I create a mood board, usually on Pinterest, and buy new piece after piece. My style is a mix of timelessness, a hint of street style, a bit of high-fashion, and the occasional ‘Instagram girl.’  But every year, while on the yard or during tailgate, I’ll see another outfit on someone else that I’ll fall in love with, which often leads to me using that as inspiration for the following year. I’m, of course, going the more comfortable route this year. The Blake during a traditional homecoming would trek through campus in a four-inch pump, uncomfortable as ever. This year, I’m prioritizing both the comfort and the high-fashion appeal.”

Why did you choose this outfit?
“It’s simple, comfy, but still gives ‘cute brunch vibes.’ The contrast of the super-casual dress paired with the snakeskin boot and statement earring is something I love and is indicative of my usual style. The knit fabric and loose fit keeps things comfortable — brunch will be packed with food and champagne — but still provides a sleek silhouette.” 

Shop Blake’s outfit:

Alexis Thrasher
Spelman College, class of 2016 

What’s your favorite thing about homecoming? 
“The energy, the anticipation of seeing your friends, choosing your outfits for the events, and most importantly, the tailgate.”

How are you celebrating homecoming this year? 
“I’ll probably be attending a few small in-person celebrations (safely), but not too sure as of yet.”

How are you coping with this change?
“The change hasn’t affected me that much to be honest. I’ve simply acknowledged that times are different and we must adjust to our current reality. It’s better to embrace it than to push against it.”

What do you usually wear to homecoming? And how is your look changing this year?
“It depends on my mood or current inspiration at the moment. I may feel preppy one year or I may go with my typical vibe, which is ‘comfy chic.’ A lot of it depends on the weather because Atlanta is all over the place, and it’s hard to predict. This year, I’m going with my ‘comfy chic’ style, which means a jogger with an oversized top and a heel, or a fitted ribbed dress with a fresh pair of kicks. Simple and minimalistic is ideal.”

Why did you choose this outfit?
“I chose the outfit because it reflects my style: effortless, chic, and easy. It’s neutral with a small amount of bling.”

Shop Alexis’ outfit:

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