The Case For and Against Rocking Gear From a College You Didn't Graduate From (Or Attend)

Illustration for article titled The Case For and Against Rocking Gear From a College You Didn't Graduate From (Or Attend)
Photo: Panama Jackson

I’m an HBCU (historically Black college or university) enthusiast. There was a time in my life that whenever I went to a city with an HBCU, I tried to get to the bookstore to buy a t-shirt from the institution. My collection of HBCU shits was top notch. And I’d go out and wear them, too. It was nothing to see me outside on a sunny day somewhere wearing a t-shirt from Morris Brown College, Oakwood University, Spelman College or Howard University. I attended Morehouse College and thus the vast majority of my apparel is from there (and Spelman), but again, I love all HBCUs.

Now, I know people have differing opinions on this: while I (and others) am happy to wear that Fisk University t-shirt that looks so dope in the pale moonlight, some people just cannot fathom wearing another school’s name on a shirt (or anything). I’ve been part of an ongoing convo on Facebook about this very thing started by one of the homies. I think there’s a case for and against it. Most importantly nobody’s right...and nobody’s wrong.

But first a story.

Even as an enthusiast of HBCUs, this love hit an interesting snag on January 20, 2021: The Inauguration of President Joe Biden, and more historically, Kamala Harris as the first woman and first Black and South Asian woman Vice President. Of course, her role plays a special significance for HBCU grads: she graduated from Howard University, one of the most—if not the most—prominent HBCUs in America. You see, my wife went to Howard. So in our household is this fun, benign game of tug-of-war about where our three boys will go to college. For the record, they are allowed to go wherever they want, but they will be encouraged actively and passively to attend an HBCU, and Morehouse or Howard, specifically.

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Well, as you can imagine, Howard alumni were rightly besides themselves with glee about the ascent of their fellow Bison. Shoot, us Morehouse Men dine out on the fact that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is a graduate at any and all times. That statue on the National Mall? That’s a Morehouse Man. We’re proud. Howard’s pride was front and center and I couldn’t be happier about that. I told my wife that it was their day and I loved seeing how she and her friends all celebrated together (responsibly social distanced via the Internet). It’s a symbolic win, we can discuss politics at another time.

Early in that day, my wife made sure that our sons all wore Howard shirts. They all have both schools’ clothing but ya know, inauguration, so they got that Howard drip going. And then she put on her Howard alumni hoodie. And then she told me we were going to take a family picture and asked me to put on a Howard hoodie that I own.

Scrrrrrrrr. Say wha?

I told her that I wasn’t going to wear my Howard hoodie for a family picture. I would wear a Howard Husband shirt if I had one, but this was a day for Howard folks and I didn’t go to Howard. I would however, rock any of my Morehouse shirts because I view her win as one for HBCUs, not just Howard.

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It was the first time I’d ever really felt strongly about not wearing another school’s shirt. It just didn’t feel...right. And since it was the first time I’d ever been against the idea at all, I did what anybody would do in that position: I moved on. But I also did think about the convo about why somebody would or wouldn’t rock other school’s paraphernalia as part of their casual wear? (School promotion work, etc. is the definite loophole here. Feel free to burn after wearing if it offends you.)

So what’s the reason against doing so? This seems easy: You didn’t go to that school, why would you want to wear their clothing? Why represent for an institution you neither supported financially or with your time or energy? And I get that; if you went to Howard, why would you rock a shirt from Hampton, Morehouse or Spelman, etc. You have your own to represent. I’m sure folks who go to white schools feel the same. Rivalry schools are obvious (ie. Auburn/Alabama, Michigan State/Ohio State, etc.) but like why would somebody from Creighton wear a shirt from Kansas State? If you have a school to represent you represent that school.

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There is a hiccup up here though; I definitely own a hoodie from the University of Alabama, whose football team I support. I went to high school in Alabama and you tend to pick sides. Those sides don’t evaporate because I went to Morehouse. It’s also personal because of my family. Now, I don’t wear Alabama hoodies often, usually just game day so maybe it’s not much of a sidebar. But growing up I remember rocking gear from Michigan because of the Fab Five, Georgetown for basketball reasons and my favorite jacket ever was my Duke Blue Devils Starter parka. Would I still wear it today? I would. But I have already copped to wearing apparel from other schools. And I really, really liked that jacket.

But, if you grew up as a fan of Duke and ended up going to UNC, I don’t really see a universe where you wear that stuff and vice versa. So I get it.

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What’s the reason to do so?

Because you want to. And that’s all I have to say about that. <—- Not true. Seriously, if you want to wear that shit, wear it. I support HBCUs, that’s my why, and it’s the largest reason because I want other people to see schools they might not be familiar with. I love when somebody comes up to me and says, “hey did you go to XYZ?” and I say, “no, but I love HBCUs. I went to Morehouse and yada yada yada bing bong bing.”

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But the best reason to do so is simply because you want to. If you paid for it, it’s your call. Wear it or not, it’s all a personal choice anyway. When I was at Morehouse I remember seeing folks wearing items from where they were from. I had an Alabama A&M University t-shirt that I wore on occasion....because I owned it and clean clothes are a premium in college.

So, what say you: how do you feel about wearing shirts or what have you from institutions you didn’t attend?

Panama Jackson is the Senior Editor of Very Smart Brothas. He's pretty fly for a light guy. You can find him at your mama's mama's house drinking all her brown liquors.

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DISCUSSION

agb5
moistened bint

OK, I’ll bite. I think wearing college merch from any college is OK up until a certain age, maybe mid-20's? After that, you should have gone there. Possible exception permitted if you are putting someone else through said institution. Most expensive sweatshirt ever, then. 

Think Jeffrey Epstein in the Harvard sweatshirt. You’re not saying you graduated from there, but you’re opening the door to the possibility and implying it might be the case.