Lena Waithe's MTV Awards Show Look Pays Homage to a Civil Rights Heroine

Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for MTV
Lena Waithe

Waithe’s stylist tells THR that Waithe's look was inspired by one of her heroines, Shirley Anita Chisholm.

As an actress, producer and screenwriter, Lena Waithe wears many hats, but she may be best known as a game changer. Waithe made history last year as the first African-American woman to win an Emmy for comedy writing, thanks to her work on Netflix series Master of None and, in particular, for an episode based on her personal experience of coming out as a lesbian. 

She’s currently writing and producing the forthcoming TBS television show Twenties, mentoring a diverse group of young writers. At the MTV Movie & TV Awards, she will receive a well-deserved Trailblazer Award. And Waithe’s stylist, Tiffany Hasbourne, told THR exclusively that both her look and tonight’s acceptance speech are inspired by one of her heroines, Shirley Anita Chisholm — the first black woman elected to the U.S. Congress in 1968, and the first black woman to run for the Democratic party’s U.S. Presidential nomination in 1972.

“It was announced that Lena was getting this award and before I could even say, ‘Hey, let’s do this,’ she came to me and said, ‘Shirley Chisholm was the inspiration behind my speech, so we need to figure out what to do with this image; let’s put something together,’” says Hasbourne of the hoodie Waithe is wearing with an image of Chisolm on the front.

“Lena was very adamant; her style is very specific, and she wanted to make sure that it very much represented who she was, and she didn’t want to look too dressed up. She wanted to be comfortable and casual. So I had the image of Shirley Chisholm printed onto a generic black stock hoodie. And we could only hope for the response we’ve been getting, to have people say, ‘Oh my God, where did you get that hoodie from, and why?’”  

Layered over the custom hoodie, Waithe wears a custom jacket designed by Los Angeles fashion designer Jhoanna Alba of the eponymous label Alba, who designed the gold-leaf-printed tuxedo that Waithe wore to accept her Emmy award last year as well as the black suit in honor of the Time's Up movement that she wore to the NAACP Awards in January. (Alba also counts Dwayne Johnson, Magic Johnson and Russell Westbrook as clients).  

“Jho came to me and said, ‘I want to dress her for this,’” says Hasbourne. “And I said, ‘She doesn’t want to wear a suit, but maybe a jacket?’ Originally this jacket had a floral design on the sleeves, and Lena isn’t against florals, but we wanted to take this great jacket and create something that was more specific to her and culturally influenced. Jhoanna imported different African-print fabrics, and the patchwork was part of making a little nod to the culture. We even made a fabric board that you can see on my Instagram page, and as busy as she is, Lena weighed in, and we selected the fabrics that we liked the best.”

“She’s wearing black Hudson jeans and even then she said, ‘I didn’t think of wearing jeans,’ but we did a black moto jean for a more polished look with the jacket and the sweatshirt,” says Hasbourne. “Don C [Don Crawley, designer of streetwear brand Just Don, known for its collabs with Nike Air Jordan] even gave her a pair of his unreleased sneakers because she’s a sneakerhead. She has a whole room at home just for her sneakers. So even down to her footwear, we wanted to indicate what a trailblazer looked like!”

No stranger to political fashion statements, Waithe wore a rainbow-colored cape to the Met Gala in May, making a point about LGBTQ rights during the "Heavenly Bodies" exhibition and gala inspired by the Catholic Church.

“In the past year, since the Emmys, we really wanted to define a look that’s true to who she is,” says Hasbourne. “She’s a proud gay woman who wears men’s clothing. And she’s young and hip and in the know. So for her, it was about how to incorporate who she is into these events to keep everything authentic.”