I stepped into a cool air-conditioned dressing room trailer, only to be greeted by melanin and the smiles of four gorgeous Black women. During Super Bowl LVI weekend, adidas hosted a pep rally at Audubon Middle School in partnership with PENSOLE and the Iovine and Young Academy, founded by Beats co-founders Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine. While prepping for their outdoor appearance at the middle school pep rally, two Black women were sitting pretty side by side in their adidas kicks, baby hairs ugly, and eyebrows slayed – it was truly an on-camera sight to see. Knowing that we were all in attendance to celebrate the “Wood U” workshops’ mission to empower young kids to pursue a career in design, I absolutely knew that I had to chop it up with these ladies about their personal style and relationship with fashion.
“I’ve always said like, ‘sophisto-ratchet,’ ‘boug-etto-‘, ‘clachet’ – like, in-between work and the club.” said Los Angeles Sparks player Chinenye “Chiney” Ogwumike about her personal style. Often referred to as Chiney, the Sparks forward became the first Black woman to host a national radio show for ESPN, while also being the first WNBA player to do so. While you can typically find her on the basketball court in a jersey and shorts, Chiney prefers form-fitting, colorful, traditional silhouettes and dresses. For shoes, the 29-year-old prefers a versatile choice because she never knows where her day may lead her. “I might be going from studio to workout to wherever it may be, so having some cool chic sneakers or low heels, I guess that’s sort of my swag,” she continued.
In comparison to her younger sister, Nnemkadi Chinwe Victoria “Nneka” Ogwumike, who was drafted No. 1 overall in the 2012 WNBA Draft, describes her style as a bit more eclectic and one-of-a-kind. “I’m always the one in the family that everyone finds hard to shop for,” Nneka laughed. While she cites her sister as one of the only people who knows her style pretty well, Nneka deems herself as “the type of person that no one really knows what to buy” due to her “unexpected” style choices, according to Chiney. “Honestly, I dress based on how I feel. So a lot of times I’m not wearing the same thing over and over again, but it could be anything. I will try anything,” Nneka said proudly.
“Overall with fashion, authenticity is now being valued in a way that it should have been. For instance, with tattoos or hairstyles, we’re now demystifying what having certain hair means at work. That works in the corporate space, or whether you’re on courtside or you’re in a suite,” Chiney chimed in after her sister. While the ladies were talking about Super Bowl style and how to dress for the sporting occasion, Chiney noted that the important thing about personal style is comfort and staying true to your aesthetic. “We grew up in Silicon Valley where the person behind you on Starbucks could be the head of a startup person and he’s wearing sweats and sneakers. Nowadays people are coming in their own authentic styles, and I feel like that’s the most important thing.”
During the adidas x PENSOLE pep rally in Inglewood, ESSENCE caught up with the Ogwumike sisters about their thoughts on Gen Z fashion, the advice they’d give their younger selves about personal style, and how Black women have always been the number one trendsetters in the fashion universe.
ESSENCE: How do sneakers play a role in your personal style, and what are the best ways to style sneakers when it comes to going to sporting events?
Nneka: I’m glad you said personal because I was like, “Sneakers? We play in those.” When it comes to sneakers, I love that you can wear sneakers with anything. I actually said this to someone who runs one of the W fashion accounts, and I was like, “It’s really upsetting to me because I’m not like a sneakerhead, but I have some fire kicks. I just don’t wear them all the time. It’s really upsetting to me that you guys really only deem people fashionable when they wear hot shoes that are sneakers.” I was like, “I be wearing some fire heels and you guys don’t say anything about it.” There’s definitely a versatile way how you can style your shoes. Sometimes people pick their shoes first and then pick the outfit. I’m an outfit person and then I pick my shoes. If I wear sneakers, it could be like, ‘Okay, let me just wear these Forums with some tights.
Chinese: Comfort is key. Because you know, we are an outfit-first-and-shoe-after family. Having a versatile pair [of sneakers] is like, “okay, maybe the Superstars are comfortable, maybe the Forums, maybe the Yeezys.” Yeezys are extremely comfortable to me. I think having a versatile, different look type of sneakers that all are comfortable can make life easier in the different molds of classic Superstars. With styling, I think it’s also the sock for me. If you do have low cuts, you can also get a cool-colored sock to tie your outfit together. With a low Forum, you could wear a mid sock and at Adidas, they do three stripes and you can pick up what color. It can really pick up on your outfit and I think that’s another way to accessorize. Socks are fun and when it comes to heels, people are now wearing socks with heels in a unique way.
ESSENCE: How would you say that Black women have really been the blueprint for streetwear?
Chinese: You answered your own question. Can we not even talk about streetwear? Can we just talk about just body? It’s not what you wear, it’s how you wear it. Our natural bodies allow us to wear what we want to wear and look good while wearing it. We’re starting to finally push our own brands and have ownership over it so we can reap the benefits and not let them be copied and imitated throughout cultures. We can now be owners and creators at the same time.
Nneka: I would say that Black women have really been the blueprint. First of all, fashion is cyclical. At the end of the day, whatever comes out, when it comes to fashion, it’s always done better by a Black person. Let’s take Crocs for example – they’re fire now. Even if we’re talking about nails, jewelry, or nameplates, these are all things that were all around when I was six. It’s coming back, but back when we were six, it was all of the Black women who were doing it.
China: It’s also pop culture. We operate at the intersection of sports of entertainment. We’re here in Los Angeles for Super Bowl weekend and a lot of the people that are heightened in these experiences are athletes. Now you’re starting to see us sort of maneuver those spaces in ways that can show homage to Black designers, female designers, minority businesses. It’s no longer, “the narrative is carried away from us and we have nothing else to do.” Now we can intentionally choose to engage with brands like Nneka does. She put me onto Hanifa and now I’m waiting on Thanksgiving for a sale. We know where it started. We know that there’s no one way to define a Black woman, especially when it comes to fashion and self-expression. As long as there’s no hate, it’s fine. As long as we are celebrating each other, as long as I recognize your fashion, that’s you – do it. The best room to be in is when Black women are hyping each other up.
ESSENCE: How have you seen Gen Z is taking more fashion risks these days with their personal style?
Chinese: I love that they are confident enough to express themselves. I remember going to middle school and a girl would come in red skinny jeans, and I was like, “Whoa! Red skinny jeans?” Gowing up, I remember all the girls would want to wear the shirt that says Hollister, American Eagle, or Aeropostale, and all look the same. Things have flipped now. You want to be unique. Kids are owning their own style in a way that is so great because it shows inner confidence. From hairstyles to shoes to outfits, because they have access to social media, they can take and piece in ways that we just got to learn maybe when we’re in college. We went through that exposure so I just think the expression is amazing.
Nneka: I mostly love, too, the expression outside of just what is being worn, it’s how it’s being worn. It’s nails, hair, jewelry. I do love the attention to detail. It’s not just in the clothes, it’s in everything else – how you pose, how you carry yourself.
ESSENCE: If you could give your younger selves any advice about personal style and confidence, what would you tell her?
Nneka: Honestly, I would tell myself that your big butt is not a problem. I had such an issue playing volleyball [and] feeling so insecure about having to wear those tiny tights. It was always like I had to think about it. I always wore shirts that were super big to cover my butt because I thought it was too big.
Chinese: For me, I think it would be, “Your long legs and your big feet aren’t an issue. You’re proportional.” As a kid, I would’ve told myself, “You have a bigger-sized shoe, but guess what? It’s proportional.” Don’t fix your long legs. That’s different. Your pants may be “high waters,” but look what’s in trend now – straight jeans where they don’t have to touch the floor. What makes you you is what makes you special. Lastly, I would say [my] dark skin. Celebrate being a dark-skinned woman, because colorism is something that we’re reckoning with right now in society and trying to push past.
Especially as a dark-skinned woman and also coming from African heritage, it’s hard to find a place where as a child at that time, you’re like, “this is what the standard of beauty meant to me.” If I saw Naomi [Campbell]I should have had Naomi on my wall, Lupita [Nyong’o], and those images, but those were just now being discovered, we were just discovering those. Instead, we had, not to shade, N*SYNC and stuff. You cannot be what you cannot see. If we could see that, maybe I’d feel better because I know I’m not the only one that looks like this even though that was my experience in school.
Nneka: I would also add not being insecure about my hair. I have fully embraced it now. Clearly, I’ve grown my hair out. I went through all different types of stages with my hair, but you still deal with a lot of uncomfortable conversations when people have questions about it. People want to touch your hair and all that stuff. Certainly, finally being comfortable with my hair and also embracing what it takes for it to be healthy and not just for me to use it as a quick fix or to be convenient for other people to digest.
Chinese: Now I understand protective styles and why your parents put you in certain styles. I’m excited to be a parent so that I can be like, “You can have red braids. Do you want red braids?,” and “Your hair’s going to be taken care of, but you can express yourself.” I think that type of freedom, I’m excited to give my kids. I know our parents were doing the best with us. We were in braids and doing the right thing, but now you’re starting to see the expression is good for kids as well.