While most people tend to shy away from using words like quirky, eccentric, and/or weird when describing their personal style, Shahadi Wright Joseph isn’t most people.
At the young age of 16, Shahadi is self-assured with an inner confidence that can take others years to develop. Known for her roles in Jordan Peele’s Us and Amazon Prime’s thriller anthology, Them: Covenant, she has already realized the importance of being yourself, owning who you are, and embracing what makes you truly unique.
I could tell from the first time we met.
Our paths first crossed at the Essence Fashion House held during New York Fashion Week (NYFW) in September 2021. The energy in the room was electric as fashion lovers, designers, and models were finally getting a chance to get back together after a pandemic-forced hiatus. While enjoying crafted cocktails, runway fashion, and trendy vendors, attendees traveled the two-story warehouse venue happily and wore their excitement from head to toe. Donning bold colors, vibrant prints, and eye-catching accessories, attendees proclaimed loudly that Black girls were magic and fashion was back.
Then, Shahadi walked into the event, conversations paused, eyes turned, and camera shutters fluttered. Well of course they did – she made her presence known sporting a one-of-a-kind Todd Fisher black, white, and pink butterfly jumpsuit complete with matching gloves and sky-high platform pumps.
Recognizing the spotlight, but not exploiting it, Shahadi smiled warmly and greeted everyone she caught eye contact with, including me. She looked over her shoulders, posed, and showed off a look that many would describe as a risky choice. One that not most people of any age could pull off, let alone wear.
“Everybody loved that look, it was so out of the box and a great idea,” Shahadi told me during a recent Zoom interview. The idea came from Mickey Freeman, her stylist and fellow style conspirator. The look was one her favorites from last year’s fashion week.
“I think Mickey is very strategic when it comes to my looks. He knows me so well and how I want to be perceived in this industry,” Shahadi continued. “He doesn’t want to dress me up to make me look too old or make me look too young. I am still 16, but I am also sixteen, if you know what I mean.”
A quick scan of Shahadi’s Instagram posts from September 2021 further shows Shahadi’s carefully picked fashion choices during one of the world’s most anticipated fashion events. Though it was her first NYFW, she dressed like a seasoned pro.
In addition to the custom jumpsuit, some of her most notable outfits included a sophisticated black grommet dress from Duncan and a Bronx and Banco dress and Namila leather corset overlay. With each look, Shahadi made clear the command of her image, her love of fashion, and her need to push the envelope.
But, as she told me, her style wasn’t always so defined.
The Early Years
A Caribbean American, Shahadi calls Brooklyn home. During her early years she attended an all-Black private school and didn’t have much leeway when it came to what she wore. “I would always wear a uniform every single day so I would never really dress myself and my mom would always dress me during other times.”
Everything changed when Shahadi switched to public school and started making her own style decisions. Without knowing it, her personal fashion story began.
“I remember thinking, how am I going to dress … like …. I don’t even know what I want to look like. I didn’t know how to match things or put things together. I remember when I first came to school everyone would make fun of my clothes because it was so different.”
Ignoring her peers’ comments, Shahadi quickly figured out what worked for her. Like most adolescents, her day-to-day ‘fits became a vehicle for self-expression. “I put stripes with plaid,” Shahadi laughed as she discussed some of her questionable early choices.
“I would always wear jeans under my skirts, and I would also wear tights under my jeans so that when you saw my ankle there would be purple or pink underneath my jeans. Everyone used to think that was so odd or weird, but I still do that to this day. I wear tights with everything.”
When asked about pops of color, and her choice to wear bright tones on her chocolate skin, Shahadi quickly explained how empowered she was to wear what she liked and to stand out. “When you go to school with a bunch of kids they are going to make little comments like ‘Oh, you shouldn’t wear that’ and that kind of did create hesitation in a way, but now I am unstoppable when it comes to color. I love a bunch of colors on me.”
What is Shahadi’s favorite color? “It’s always been pink; my entire room is pink. It has never changed.” She was telling the truth – as she answered the question she motioned to demonstrate that the wall off the Zoom camera was painted pink and slightly twirled in her pink desk chair.
One To Watch
Today, Shahadi embraces what her classmates described as weird. “I’ve kind of come to terms with learning how to keep that weirdness with my clothes with things that make people talk.”
“I would say that my style is pretty quirky sometimes, just my natural fashion, things that I wear on a daily basis. I would say that it [my style] is out of the box, eccentric and kind of Gen Z.”
Shahadi says that she finds much of her fashion inspiration from looking online. She admits that during quarantine – like most of us – she’s taken to online shopping and looks on the Internet at celebrities and influencers for ideas.
“I adore Emma Chamberlain. I feel like she has been the person that has been known for a lot of her vests and different colors. She wears a lot of Gucci and a lot of people find her outfits to be weird sometimes and that is exactly what I love. Ms. Doja Cat has always been a very big inspiration as well. I would love to work with her stylist one day.”
Who else does Shahadi want to work with? Just a few well-known brands and fashion houses. “I have always wanted to work with Mugler – I would love to be dressed by them. YSL as well, and Telfar. I want to get my ‘Telfeezy’ so I can look like a real New Yorker.”
Take A Walk In My Shoes
As Shahadi continues to define herself through fashion she also understands the importance of selecting the perfect shoes. “My favorite shoes to wear are my plain Air Force Ones. They go with absolutely everything. I also have shoes from Steve Madden that I love – a Doc Marten type – also my Rick Owens, those are the constant shoes that I shuffle through.”
The fabulousness of Shahadi’s fashion choices is only rivaled by the fierceness of her hairstyles. And, the teen is quickly becoming popular for her crowning glory.
She often opts to showcase her creative natural coif with stacked updos, big, beautiful curls and kinks, exaggerated ponytails, and box braids. Can we say #naturalhairgoals?
In fact, her followers couldn’t get enough of an October 2021 black and white Instagram post showcasing one of these iconic styles. The elevated braided look was fit for a queen and created by celebrity hair stylist Cheryl T. Bergamy. “A young goddess,” commented Lena Waithe. “True black beauty” said another commentor.
While she’s always gravitated toward more natural styles, Shahadi told me quarantine and working in the entertainment industry has made her interest grow. Wearing natural styles is becoming a necessity.
“When you are an actor, especially a Black actor, you are going to come to a point in time where people might damage your hair just because they are not educated on Black hair. So, whenever I have a type of break or hiatus I really do try to put my hair in a protective style.”
“I’ve learned to put my hair into box braids and keep it the way that it is,” Shahadi continued. “I try not to put too much heat on it and very much low manipulation styles when I am home.”
In The Works
Turning away from her interests in hair and fashion, Shahadi dished about some of her upcoming projects, including a movie with Tiffany Haddish, and working with her mentor and Us co-star, Lupita Nyong’o.
“Lupita is one of my biggest inspirations – she has been that since I have been little,” Shahadi said with a huge smile. “So to be able to say I know her and that I’ve worked with her is such an honor for me. She has been the pinnacle in Hollywood of dark-skinned representation and she carries herself so well. Our relationship is very mother and daughter. She teaches me so many things – just watching her act is an acting class in itself. I feel like I paid thousands of dollars just to see her do her thing. I carry that with me throughout my life and the projects that I do.”
One of the projects Shahadi is carrying her unique experience to is Throw It Back. First announced in June 2021, the musical drama is to be produced by Tiffany Haddish and Paul Fieg and follows a high school senior, Wytrell, played by Shahadi, who has never stood out from the crowd. Making his acting debut, Young Thug will also star in the film.
Shahadi says she looks forward to working with Haddish and sees many similarities between herself and her new role. Wytrell is also a Caribbean American, a dancer, and, obviously, a teen. We joked about how the film seems to be our modern version of Bring It On.
“When I read the script, Bring It On was one the first things that came to mind … I was very excited because my parents are dancers, and this is going to be a highly dance-centered film. I started out dancing and it seems like I am coming back full circle. I adore this character and it is something very different than the other characters I have done in the past and I am excited for people to see my range.”
While Shahadi is actively preparing, the film is not yet in production. In the meantime, she continues with school and has started rehearsal for the Tap Dance Kid, a new theatre production with Trevor Jackson.
As a “broadway baby,” Shahadi talks about the theatre fondly. “Broadway is a lot more pressure when it comes to performance. It is not as if you can say cut and go back and re-do a line if you mess up. You have to improvise your way into the solution if you make a mistake on stage. I think that is something that I am used to – it has been engrained in my head. So, when I started film I would always try to get a perfect take on the first one.”
“I think film is something that I want to do for the rest of my life. But I will always love musical theatre and I think I will always keep coming back to it.”
Whether she is starring in a new film or lighting up the stage, Shahadi is not afraid of hard work. She is constantly looking to create more opportunities for herself and other melanated actors. Just as she often seeks to own her image through her clothing choices, she is charting her own creative path.
This is especially important in the midst of an industry that she notes is “infamous for colorism” and has not always given Black actors a fair shot.
“My experience [in the industry] has been really good … but it can be difficult sometimes. That is why I started getting to the point of making my own content and writing my own films. I was tired of seeing dark-skinned girls in the industry getting screwed over time and time again over roles that they are more than capable of doing.”
Following our Zoom interview, Shahadi had a meeting about a book she is working to get produced into film. While she couldn’t share many details, she is collaborating with 16-year old This is Us actor Eris Baker and has been brainstorming ideas with her over the past year.
“Eventually I would love to be on the writing side of things, behind the camera, directing, and producing.”
Without question, Shahadi Wright Joseph is a role model for young Black girls while being a fashion and hair inspiration for all of us. She is out-of-the box, quirky, and unstoppable – we can’t wait to see what else she brings to the world.
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