Name: Chi Chi N.
Year: Graduate Student
Program: Couples and Family Therapy through the College of Education
Hometown: Oak Hill, West Virginia
Chi Chi rocks a yellow dress from Marshalls. Her headscarf was made from fabric a friend brought in Liberia. She also made a scarf and pants out of it.
Did you grow up in West Virginia? Yes I grew up in West Virginia, but I am half Nigerian. So I’ve had a lot of influence from my dad, and he actually lives in New York. So I spent summers up there.
How was it growing up there and dressing more expressively? It was interesting. When I was in high school, I was probably the only one that was dressing as expressively as I do. When I got to college and people were coming from all over, then it was still like, “You’re wearing that?” But then people didn’t assume I was from West Virginia. They said, “Oh you must be from D.C. or something.” No. I’m from West Virginia. It was interesting. People always think you’re doing something out of the box. I’m like, “No. People all over the world are doing this.”
Her ring, which can be flipped to show two different stones, was a gift from her mother. The bracelet was from a Middle Eastern shop in Seattle.
Have you seen a difference in how people dress on the East and West Coast? There is a little bit more of “I don’t really care what I have on. I’m just going to wear it and be cool.” On the East Coast, there is a little bit more intention about dressing. When I first came here, I thought, “Oh I don’t really need to prepare anything to be cute because everything here is super relaxed.”
How did you become interested in therapy? I think it was just my desire to help out the family. I really want to do work with the African American community, and that’s really what has driven me to pursue therapy and become a therapist.
Do you think you have a personality that works well for therapy? For some reason, I tend to click well with people. They tend to want to be my friend, like “Oh you seem cool and laid back.” I kind of view myself as that kind of person, so I think that works well for me. It’s just having a very chill stance and vibe. Some people feel I’m approachable, but not all.
What is your dream job? My dream job is to do research and then use the research to inform my therapy.
How has your style changed over time? I think I’ve become a little bit more conservative since I joined a master’s program just because I feel I should cover up, but on nice days, I let that go and wear whatever I want to wear.
Her shiny blue clogs are from Gabriel Brothers, a store in West Virginia.
How would you describe your personal style? I kind of draw inspiration from going in the moment. I can plan an outfit the day before, but I like to wake up in the morning and think about what pops out at me or what shoes I want to wear and base my outfit off of that.
What was your inspiration for today? I had to do some homework this morning. So then I thought, “It’s sunny outside. I want to wear yellow.” But I also really wanted to wear these new shoes that I got and my school colors back at home are blue and yellow. I thought, “Perfect. I’m about to rep Mountaineers (West Virginia University) today.”
Who are some of your style inspirations? I’m half Nigerian, so I really get inspiration from African culture, my culture. It’s the reason I have on my headwrap today. And just African culture period. I get inspiration from that: What do I want to do today? Do I want to wear the big earrings or something wooden or a scarf?
Have you noticed the West African wax print fabrics becoming more popular? They have become a lot more popular just because Africa period is growing, and their style over there is growing, and that’s transferring over here. There is a lot of African fabric. A lot of African print being sewn into modern styles, what we call modern here.
How do you see yourself dressing in twenty years? I see myself being similar. I don’t see myself aging as in, “Oh I’m 40. Now I have to cover up.” No. I shaved the side of my head a couple of years ago and had my hair on the top. My aunt who was 50, she was like, “I’m about to do it too.” She shaved hers, and we were rocking it together. I thought, “That’s going to be me when I get to that age.” When I get to that age, I’m still going to dress me. It’s not going to change.”
Are your family and the women in your life an inspiration? Oh yeah. Up to my grannie. My grannie is 87, and she has a room full of shoes. Even now, we’re like, “Grannie do you want to go out?” We’ll put her in the wheelchair, and we’re going to the shoe store to go shoe shopping with her. It just transfers down. All the women in my life are very eccentric.
What part of your personality comes through in your outfits? I don’t wear anything that I feel isn’t me. Matter of fact, my first name is Allie, and I don’t go by that because it doesn’t suit me. I go by my middle name, which is Chinyere. Chi Chi is short for that. I’m like, “Oh I have to dress for what feels me.” If I feel loud today, I’m going to go loud. If I feel African – well I feel African every day – but if I feel African, I’m going to put on a scarf. I’m going to wear my earrings. I dress me, which is very eccentric, very unique. I like to think.
Her hair jewels are from a shop in Portland. She wanted to add some flair to her hair.
When did you make the name switch? I’ve always gone by Chi Chi because my dad wanted my first name to be Chinyere and not Allie, but my mom kind of got that. But I’ve always gone by Chi Chi. I’ve been wanting to switch to Chinyere lately, and then go short with Ray. But that’s hard because I’m in my 20s now.
How do you introduce a new name? It would be transition and location. So maybe when I move to do whatever I’m going to do, I may introduce myself as “Chi Chi” and for short, go “Ray” and see how that goes.
Are there any Nigerian celebrities who inspire you? I don’t think any Nigerian celebrities per say. I do love that Lupita Nyong’o is out there, but everyone knows her. I just enjoy the fact that she is a dark-skinned woman, and she is being very loud in her dressing and colors. I think sometimes that maybe when you’re darker or black, it’s assumed you shouldn’t do loud colors. No.
Words by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, @HSteinkopfFrank
Photos by Elinor Manoogian-O’Dell, @