What comes to mind when you hear the name Serayah McNeill? Does your brain automatically connect it to her role as Tiana Brown on FOX’s Empire or do you think about Chris Brown vying for her attention in the visuals for his chart-topping tune Undecided. Whatever it is, she captured your attention.
The Los Angeles-native has shown no sign of slowing up since the start of COVID-19, dropping singles Mr. Lover and Miss You featuring Blac Youngsta. During quarantine, we’ve been able to check-in on the Addicted singer through TikToks with her heartthrob bae Jacob Latimore and colorful Instagram flicks with different hairstyles and color schemes.
It’s not everyday that you get the opportunity to chop it up with the gorgeous triple threat on a Tuesday night during quarantine. The vibe was dope and she reminded me a lot of my best friend, who is also a Gemini like Serayah, which made the conversation even more comfortable and easy-going like two homegirls catching up. I had the chance to speak with Serayah about her sense of fashion evolution, the beauty of masking tape as a red carpet hack and her biggest fashion regrets.
When first connecting with Serayah on the phone, it would be remiss of me not to ask her how her mental health was doing, especially during these high times of stress in the Black community. After assuring me that her mental health was intact and she appreciated me for asking, we dove right into talking about her definitions of personal style and fashion. “For me, style is what you personally like and what you personally gravitate towards; who you are is expressed through your style,” she explained. “When I think fashion, I think brands that are making big movements in culture, are contributing to culture and [while] they may be lower or higher expense, they’re definitely making an impact in the world.”
On a day-to-day basis and COVID-19 aside, we can catch Serayah in denim with a bit of redone vintage flare, a wife beater crop top to pay homage to the 2000s and a layered jewelry look with chains, chokers and rings. “Just depending on where I’m going, I have a lot of tennis shoes so I’ll probably be wearing sneakers,” she told me about her shoe game. “If I’m going somewhere like a meeting or something, I’ll definitely throw on a mule or an open-toed heel.”
Serayah first discovered she had her own unique style around the age of 14. “In high school, I definitely think I was able to play around a little bit more and I started to go thrift shopping with my friends – it just kind of became a hobby,” the Burning Sands actress explained. “I got more into looking [at] magazines and more into learning about brands.”
The multi-hyphenate actress reminisces about her earliest style memory, which she laughs about never repeating, of colored skinny jeans. “I think that was one of my favorite things at the time. Shortly after that, which I still love, I got into vintage. When I was thrifting, I got into a lot of 50s, 70s and 80s type of style and design.” Serayah’s grandmother, who made her prom dress, was handy and knew how to create from patterns, which further gauged Serayah’s interest in vintage shopping and learning the terminology behind fashion trends. “My grandmother definitely inspired my style as in knowing the actual terminology and knowing the different things about clothes.”
Admitting that she’s a fan of throwback fits, Serayah coins the 2000s era as one of her favorite style inspirations – low-cut jeans and see-through glasses especially. “Obviously, I would love to see it reworked because some of the stuff from the 2000s was treacherous, but I love the swag behind it,” she said as we joined in laughter. As far as fashion trends to kiss goodbye, matching sets are on her list. “I’m a little bit over the sets for girls. Everything’s just a set. I love to mix it up and I also love sets like sport sets and leggings – don’t get me wrong,” Serayah explained. “I think sometimes it gets a little just out of order. It just caters a lot to thick bodies and some of the stuff you order, it doesn’t fit and it sucks because a lot of things now are catered around that dimension of the body.”
As two girls petite girls with small body frames, we were definitely on the same page. I shared with her my hesitation for buying from fast fashion brands because I’m not shaped like the same five models we see on every site, and she was in complete agreement. “I can’t see or be motivated to buy this because I don’t know how it’s gonna look on me and it probably won’t fit right. I’m totally there with you because I’m petite, probably everywhere, and some things I can’t get because it’s small on her, but is it small for her?” Serayah expresses her interest in developing her own line for petite women to make fast fashion more well-rounded, accessible, affordable, and diverse for everyone. She’s got a customer in me!
Buffalo Exchange, Saks Fifth, ZARA, H&M, Barney’s and Yves Saint-Laurent are on the top of Serayah’s to-do list when it comes to her favorite places to shop. Considering that we’re still in the middle of a pandemic, Serayah has chosen to take the more cute and cozy route. “I probably got legit dressed two times, but I definitely am inspired by everyone on Instagram looking amazing in everyday life and everyday wear.I have definitely been on the sweats and comfy wear, for sure,” she laughed. When it comes to indoor date nights with bae, Serayah admits that she still keeps it casual. “There have been a couple times where I put on a nice top and maybe jeans or something like that, but everything for the most is pretty casual. He’s also casual, so there’s no real pressure.”
When it comes to her hair, the Lucky Girl actress is never afraid to try something new whether it’s a cute copper bob or the perfect middle part bundles. “It’s actually a problem at this point because I’ve always been this way and my mom will tell anybody. I’ve always had really thick, curly long hair and if it was curly, I wanted it straight and if it was straight, I wanted it curly,” Serayah explained. She takes us on a trip down her hair memory lane when she first got highlights in the eight grade, cutting her Chinese bangs, and the many other trends she’s experimented with. “I don’t know if it’s because I’m a Gemini and I’m kind of just bored, but I definitely love to try different things.”
As we time travel back into the present, I asked Serayah how she believed her style has evolved from when she first started in the industry to the present-day triple threat. “Oh man, dramatically!,” as I can hear her shaking her head over the phone. She recounts her first time on the VMA’s red carpet for Taylor Swift’s Bad Blood music video, in which she was featured as Dilemma. As she tells the story, she remembers how much she learned from her first stylist and what she’s carried into her style today.
“Because I had a genuine interest [in] fashion, every time we would have a fitting, they’d go down the line of who the designer was, a little bit of a background, how to say their name properly and I would ask questions. Before I knew it,I was able to say when they pulled out a dress, ‘Hey, is that Moschino?’ I was able to point it out and I started to learn more about the history of fashion, the trends and how they work, [and] red carpet versus street style,” Serayah revealed to me about the gems and knowledge she was able to learn from her stylists throughout the years.
Though she’s grown as a style millennial to keep up with on and off the TV screen, you can’t succeed without failures. “I think I’ve had a couple looking back at these pictures,” she laughed, but Serayah dubs her biggest fashion fail to date as the shorts-and-uggs combination. “I think it’s kind of normal for us in LA, but it’s not the cutest thing. We just wanna wear Uggs so badly, but we really have no business wearing Uggs because it’s not that cold. It’s a thing and it’s kind of acceptable because everyone does it, but definitely not cute,” she said on the California trend.
Putting her Uggs and colored skinnies behind her, the Driving Me songstress moves forward to tell me about her obsession with mini purses and her first big-girl fashion splurge. “I bought two smaller sized Saint-Laurent purses and they’re that leather kind of handbag purse that sits open,” she described. Serayah remembers seeing Empire castmate, Kaitlin Doubleday, with a black Yves Saint-Laurent bag with a cross body handle and instantly falling in love. Her mom encouraged her to treat herself to her over $1,000 name brand self-love gift.
Even with a Saint-Laurent purse worth more than what I make in a week, her most valuable possession is a pair of diamond studs from her mother and step-dad. “I really love those because of the sentimental value. Also because I probably don’t trust myself with jewelry at this point and I’m trying to get myself into that,” Serayah joked. “It’s definitely one of my prized possessions because I know it’s real and it’s not costume jewelry. I really love them and I’m sure not to take them everywhere.”
As parting words, I asked the “So Good” singer about the style mantra by which she lives. “Dress like you feel. Everyday is not the same and that’s just how I am. I wake up one day and I want to wear a completely oversized sweatsuit that’s probably not gonna show any inch of my body, sneakers and my purse. Then one day, I wanna wake up and put on a bodysuit, jeans and heels,” she advised HelloBeautiful readers. She advises against boxing yourself into a style and forcing yourself to stick to it.
One piece of advice she would give to her 13-year-old Serayah, she would tell herself that the idea of right versus wrong is unreal. “As far as style, just be yourself. If you want to wear a lime green shirt, wear it. If you want to wear all black everyday, wear that!” she encouraged her younger self. “Growing up, you can be influenced by so many things and a lot of those people are the people you’re around; a lot of those people are people at school. I always love to tell younger people to find your own way and find your own swag.”