Collegiate Fashion & Activism: Black Women’s Styles on the College Campus

February 3 – April 17, 2020

Black Lives Matter hand-painted jacket, c. 2010s. Owned by Brea.

Curated by: Dyese Matthews, masters student in the apparel, merchandising, and design program and Kelly L. Reddy-Best, assistant professor in the apparel, merchandising, and design program
Exhibition catalog:

The exhibition analyzes the ways 21st century Black women college students attending predominately-white institutions in Iowa express their Black identity, activism, and expressions of empowerment through fashion. The focus is on Black women’s everyday clothing and its connection to Black student empowerment on Iowa college campuses.

The curators developed the exhibition using a community-participatory approach. Fifteen Black women college students who are currently attending predominately-white institutions in Iowa were recruited to share stories through an in-depth interview about their fashion and style. These same women loaned garments or accessories for display in the exhibition and shared images that they felt represented pride in their Black identity; 13 of these images are featured on the walls of the gallery. Through eleven themes, the curators explore the ways Black women represent themselves through everyday fashions in predominately white spaces within the highly turbulent, current social climate.


  1. In Messages of Strength,, the curators acknowledge the power within the Black community, and the need to continue support by shopping at Black owned businesses or advocating for Black people in positions of power.
  2. The section 90’s Throwback explores the nostalgic style of popular 1990s television shows featuring all-Black casts (e.g. Martin, Living Color, Sister Sister) that are reemerging within the Black millennial community.
  3. 49588823417_c041902eae_oMatriarch focuses on the strong Black woman leader of the Black family, in this case, the grandmother.
  4. The section Self-Created Expression represents designs created by Black women that overtly express their Black or activist identities.
  5. In Pride in Skin Tone, the curators represent the ways that Black women embrace their darker skin tone when wearing brighter colored garments.
  6. Cause Solidarity represents Black women advocating for various social justice issues including the Flint water crisis and women’s rights.
  7. Connection to Roots represents the Black woman’s desire for connection to their ancestors in Africa.
  8. In Fearless Expression the garments represent the ways Black women fearlessly express who they are through dress despite being in predominately white spaces.
  9. Yes, I Can! explores the experiences of a Black women in not only a predominantly white space, but a predominantly male space as an engineering student.
  10. The section Powerful Words represents the use of slogan T-shirts to share messages of the rejection of social injustices.
  11. Lastly, Black Girl Accessories highlights different types of accessories that overtly express Black identity.

Exhibition programming

Curator Talk and Exhibition Opening Event Feb 10, 2020, 5 – 6:30pm 2019 Morrill Hall

Open House Exhibition Talks Feb 19, 2020, 1 – 2pm Feb 25, 2020, 2 – 3pm 1015 Morrill Hall

Curator Talk/Pop-Up Exhibition March 10, 2020 7 – 8pm Ames Public Library Auditorium

POSTPONED: Visiting Scholar Kim Jenkins Lecture March 26, 2020, 5:30 – 6:30pm 2019 Morrill Hall