There is nothing like homecoming at a Historically Black College or University (HBCU). The fashions, the music, the bands, and the general vibe not only fill students and alumni with school pride, but they also shape popular culture. HBCU have influenced recent music, movies, and television shows.
But HBCU homecomings are not new. For over 100 years, HBCU homecomings have inspired art, music, dance, and fashion trends. Let’s look at how HBCU students have celebrated homecomings over the past century.
Popular culture: Students and alums discussed films by Oscar Micheaux or the writings of Langton Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston.
Fashion: Women dressed in the “flapper” style that featured chic hats and short (for the time) skirts. Men wore wide-legged “zoot” suits.
Music & dances: Parties featured songs by Mamie Smith, Ma Rainey, or Bessie Smith while people danced the Charleston or Black Bottom.
Popular culture: Luminaries like actor and activist Paul Robeson, dancer Katherine Dunham, and artist Jacob Lawrence would have been topics of discussion.
Fashion: Men wore hats – flat caps and fedoras. Women would have worn sleek updos while rocking designs that featured striking silhouettes. The “little black dress” made its popular debut.
Music & dances: Folks danced the Big Apple while listening to hits by Duke Ellington or Count Basie.
Popular culture: HBCU students took pride in screen legend Lena Horne as well as Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in professional sports.
Fashion: Women sported “victory rolls” or other chic hairstyles while wearing designs like peplum waists and bolero jackets to emphasize silhouettes. Advances in technology allowed men to wear striped and patterned shirts.
Music & dances: Game Day tailgaters listened to Billie Holiday and other artists on the Harlem Hit Parade – the forerunner of Billboard’s soul and R&B charts – while dancing the night away to the Lindy Hop.
Popular culture: Screen legends Dorothy Dandridge and Sidney Poitier made their silver screen debuts. At the end of the decade, Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” premiered.
Fashion: Men’s styles and grooming were crisp, sharp, and clean. Colorful short- or long-sleeved gaucho shirts with bold patterns – thanks to new technology – were popular casual wear. Women’s hairstyles included chignons and poodle cuts. For the first time, women regularly wore pants like pedal pushers.
Music & dances: Alums looking to dance would have had their choice between smooth crooners like Nat “King” Cole or the rougher sounds of rock-n-roll pioneers like Little Richard and Chuck Berry. Dances like the Twist, the Stroll, and the Madison gained popularity.
Popular culture: Black culture moved to the forefront with the rise in popularity of labels like Motown and superstars like Aretha Franklin and Jimi Hendrix.
Fashion: Hair and fashion changed greatly in this decade. In 1966, Howard University made history when students chose the first HBCU homecoming queen to wear an Afro. Women wore mini- or midi-dresses. Men preferred sleek cigarette pants or denim-and-leather combos. Both genders took inspiration from African designs and styles like dashikis.
Music & dances: The homecoming revelers put on records by their favorite Stax or Motown artists before dancing the Watusi, the Swim, or the Mashed Potato.
Popular culture: The “Blaxploitation” films of the era (like “Shaft” and “Foxy Brown”) featured strong characters that ushered in a new view of Blackness.
Fashion: Blaxploitation films – by turns gritty or flashy – also inspired the fashions of the decade. Whether male or female, some favored opulent fabrics (furs and silks) and colorful designs while others went for monochromatic looks (like black leather). Natural hair styles remained popular with both genders.
Music & dances: Funk and disco dominated the party playlists. Those wanting to learn dances like the Hustle or the Bump could simply tune into a new program, “Soul Train,” that featured Black music and introduced a staple of HBCU parties – the Soul Train line.
Popular culture: Movies like “School Daze” (directed by Morehouse alum Spike Lee) and television shows like “A Different World” (directed primarily by Howard alumna Debbie Allen in seasons two through six) brought HBCU culture to a larger audience and inspired a new generation to apply to HBCUs.
Fashion: Compared to prior decades, 1980s homecomings were more conservative. Bright colors were out – pastels were in. Alums ditched the bell bottoms in favor of preppy looks and designer fashions. The asymmetrical cut was a must-have for fashionable women of the time.
Music & dances: Legends like Michael and Prince dominated the airwaves. A new style of dancing – breakdance – and the new musical genre that inspired it – hip hop – started to gain traction.
Popular culture: Black films like “Daughters of the Dust,” “Eve’s Bayou,” “Malcolm X,” and “Boyz N the Hood” gained critical acclaim as they redefined the culture.
Fashion: Braids became a staple hairstyle. Bright colors returned in the 1990s in a major way. Hip hop culture dominated styles throughout the decade. Black-owned companies like Cross Colours, FUBU, and Karl Kani brought hip hop fashion to the masses. Sneaker culture got its start.
Music & dances: As R&B entered a golden era, rap music moved from the coasts to the South. Artists like Outcast and Goodie Mob paved the way for the “Dirty South” rappers that would provide the soundtracks for many HBCU homecomings in the 1990s and beyond. Rap songs supplied music (and instructions) for new dances like the Tootsie Roll, the Bankhead Bounce, and Da Dip.
Popular culture: Halle Berry and Denzel Washington got much deserved Oscar wins.
Fashion: Women sported velour tracksuits (perhaps by Baby Phat). For men, the classic look of the 2000s was plain white tees with crisp jeans with a little Sean John added to the mix. In this era, both genders accessorized with lots of “Bling Bling.”
Music & dances: The millennial decade boasted many fun and easy dances that could be performed by an entire crowd like the Rockaway, the Cha Cha Slide, and the Cupid Shuffle.
Popular culture: The new era of Black-created dramas featuring shows like “Empire,” “Scandal,” and “How to Get Away with Murder,” gave homecoming attendees lots to discuss. Also, 2010s homecomings were the first to be posted to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram – a wonderful way to show your HBCU pride!
Fashion: Men and women began experimenting more freely with their hair. The rules of fashion relaxed considerably leading to the rise of “athleisure” looks. Those preferring a more classic look went for skinny jeans.
Music & dances: For the first time, a country song – “Old Town Road” – rocked the homecoming parties. Female hip-hop artists like Lizzo, Meghan Thee Stallion, and Cardi B would’ve also made the playlist partiers used to do dances like the Dougie, the Whip/Nae Nae, and the Wobble.
No matter when you graduated, we hope this journey through time inspired you to reflect on your own HBCU experience or ask your relatives about theirs. Happy Homecoming from The Home Depot!