Ralph Lauren Celebrates HBCUs With New Collection
It’s time we stop ignoring the black intellectuals in our romanticized academic fashion.
Ralph Lauren dreamt up the new All American look last week, releasing a collaboration line with two HBCU colleges in the US, Spellman College and Morehouse College. An HBCU is a historically black college or university and is a safe haven for black culture in the academic world. Popular trends like “dark academia,” and historically preppy aesthetics have long ignored this sector of the student body, despite the ’40s and ’50s era look being worn largely by black Americans of the time.
This period is largely the inspiration for the classic Ralph Lauren looks we have seen for years and loved. But, it’s time for a new face of opulence. “Ivy Style,” is the coveted concept of the day, but only ~8% of ivy league students are black, and normalizing them in that space, starts with representation. Clothing is such a large part of self-expression, and it is imperative that we can exist in the “upper echelon.” Featuring HBCUs in traditionally preppy looks makes it clear that they should be seen with the same gravity as the ivys a tweed jacket is associated with.
The collection was filled with small details that highlighted the school's long history and former students' styles and experiences. One beautiful detail is the M’s on the crewnecks being the same font as the old wrestling team uniforms, and Spellman’s S being the same font as their school newspaper. The blazers were designed to mimic those given to freshman boys at Morehouse, and airy white dresses took inspiration from the White Dress Ceremony at Spellman. These connections make the collection personal for alumni and students alike, celebrating a history that should have been celebrated years ago.
Along with the clothing line, Ralph Lauren donated $2 million to fund scholarships at 12 HBCU’s across the US. The company also used exclusively black talent on the shoot and for the models, including students on campus. Spelman and Morehouse have produced many famous alumni, among them Martin Luther King JR., and Spike Lee, and this cornerstone is a perfect one to focus on. The history of the school has been captured in photographs and is shared along with the collection. Take a step back in time and gaze upon students from the 50s in calf-length skirts, white blouses, men in blazers during class, tweed, and argyle; notice how they look like they could be sitting next to you today. Our elders are not just our past, but the people who paved the way for our future. Education was not always a right afforded to black Americans, so the pride in each of these photos along with the timeless beauty is awe-inspiring. As soon as we were given the chance to learn we embodied academics in every way, beginning with how we carried ourselves.
This update on the past feels very contemporary, not only because of the craftsmanship and beautiful design but because the time period that inspired it is just over our shoulder. We need to be constantly reminded of this, the “American dream,” Ralph Lauren references is still out of reach for many, it's time to make it more accessible, their contribution opens doors for fashion and academia to consider a wider audience.