college Culture Fashion Style

Tamilore Kolawole: UNC’s Unsung Style Hero

“You’ve committed to being Tami. And I love that.”

This article originally appeared on pages 104-107 of the Spring 2023 issue of Coulture Magazine.

Oluwatamilore Kolawole is a senior from New Jersey majoring in neuroscience with a double minor in Chemistry and French. And according to our editor-in-chief Clay Morris, Kolawole is an unsung style star around campus with outfits that stand out amongst the school’s 30,000 students. The three words Clay would use to describe her style is: chic, flavorful and personal. 

Here’s a conversation between the two about Kolawole’s style and relationship with fashion. 

Clay Morris: Tami! How are you today? 

Tamilore Kolawole: I’m good — unexpectedly busy! But I’m chilling! How are you? 

CM: TIRED. But this conversation is an energy force because I’ve wanted to talk to you about your style for a while now. I notice people who dress well and I think you’re one of those people on campuses who dresses exceptionally well. We kind of go to a school where it’s really easy to, I think, fall into a rhythm of not getting dressed or dressing like everybody else because it seems like the thing to do. And that may be true nationally, and some would even say globally, but I think there are certain schools where people feel more comfortable dressing how they’d like and showing some individuality. That’s not here. But you’ve committed to being Tami. And I love that. So why are you committed to style and why do you get dressed every morning? 

TK: At my high school, my boarding school, we had a dress code. So you know, you had certain things that you weren’t allowed to wear. It was just restricted, it wasn’t a full uniform, and I had worn a uniform previously, before that. So it was a new level of exploring your own fashion. So in high school, I definitely kind of stuck to the dress code, but I was still gonna break the rules. Like I was gonna wear that crop top with the skirt, or with the low rise, khaki colored pants. like  I was gonna wear it and they were gonna accept it because I was a good student.

But through that, I started to learn how to dress like my first year, it was definitely a lot more corporate like the, it was business casual. So definitely a lot more corporate. And then after that first year, I was like, ‘Okay, let’s try playing around with….’ And I started developing what I liked. But I will say it wasn’t until the end of my first year here that I started to actually take a genuine interest in my personal style and my closet. Prior to that I definitely dressed according to what society knew was good on girls with a little bit of curves. So I was wearing the high rise skinny jeans from Topshop, you know, the crop tops and vans, like that was the statement look every time. And it worked and it looked good. But the way I was dressing wasn’t necessarily according to my style or what I wanted. I felt like I was dressing more for gratification or like validation of others instead of myself.

CM: Mmm. She’s deep, honey! 

TK: After we got kicked off the campus and I had to like downsize my closet quite literally, like go through everything… I started picking things out like “I’ve had this for four years and I’ve never worn it and it’s just not my style, like.” And then from that I was also like, “I don’t want to wear skinny jeans anymore.” 

To be fully transparent, I gained maybe like three pounds. I was like, “Okay, what fits this body.” I filled out my freshman year, which was nice. But the things that I had before weren’t fitting the same. And so it’s kind of another question like, “Okay, let me dress for myself instead of dressing in general BBL fashion.” In terms of exploring new clothes, I was always a Pinterest girl ever since high school, like I made a Pinterest for everything. And I made Pinterest boards for my friends, as well for certain events. So I just went to my Pinterest and I looked at the things I had been collecting over the years that I necessarily wasn’t wearing, but I definitely had always aspired to dress like. 

So one of them was like baggy jeans, like looser fitting pants, which is something that has stayed consistent since like my rebirth in fashion. I have not gone back to skinny jeans and I don’t look back at it and feel sad at all. Like I’m very much happy with the loose jeans. I feel freer. And skinny jeans are hot and tight. Let’s be honest. So that was definitely a major shift for me. Because I used to wear skinny jeans all. the. time. Skinny jeans and leggings down, like I was that girl. I had like 17 pairs. 

CM: Mmm. Fix it Jesus! No, I’m just playing!

TK: [Laughter] From Pinterest I went to thrifting. So I thrifted a little bit my first year before we got kicked off the campus. But during this rebirth at the beginning of my second year, I had a lot of time to myself, because I was living alone on campus. So I used to just go to the thrift store all the time, and just explore new things, try on new clothes, and it just became such a release of stress for me. I felt like whenever I’m stressed, and I still do this to this day — I feel bad for my wallet but I still do this to this day — whenever I’m stressed and like overwhelmed with things: I go to the thrift store. Just being able to look at things and imagine with your mind what they could look like maybe if you pin it here, or if you reconstruct it, break it down and just allowing that creativity to flow outside of your other responsibilities has truly been a peaceful space and a healing space.

CM: That you think that way about garments makes a lot of sense to me. You’re very thoughtful and considered. You’ll wear things and I’m like Tammy has taste. I’m like this is somebody who has done this with some strategy, some élan, so I’m always impressed with how you put your pieces together. And I didn’t even know about the whole evolution. 

TK: [laughter] Sophomore year I was a different girl. The idea always stayed the same. But after freshman year I really started to care more about what I was putting on. And dressing because  Tamilore Kolawole likes this outfit and it represents her personality. 

CM: So, this  may be backtracking, but: what do you think style is? 

TK: In the most general sense… I mean, I feel like it’s the essence of how you dress.

Like, if you could put the way you dress into three words. That’s your style. But I think style changes over time as well. So it’s really just what does your outfit say?

CM: Okay! Now, I wasn’t sure if I was gonna ask this. It’s not written… but I want to ask it. So I think everyone has style. Do you think everyone has good style? 

TK: [Silence.] 

CM: [Silence. Laughter]

TK: I think we’re all a work in progress.

CM: Good night! Enough said. That’s diplomatic. Anyway, when you’re trying to decide what you’re going to wear, is there one garment that you usually consider first, like, I know, you just talked a lot about pants and jeans. But is there a particular item that you begin your outfits with? 

TK: Oh, it depends on the day. Usually, if I’m not inspired by something that I see on my phone or around me, I’ll start with an article of clothing that I’ve either been staring at and haven’t been able to wear yet because I haven’t been able to style it. That’s usually how it goes. Like, I could go, “Oh, my gosh, I haven’t worn that green crop snake jacket in forever. That’s what I’m gonna wear today.” So I build my outfit around that. I make sure that I’m making a conscious effort to make use of all my clothes, because if I’m not wearing it, then it can be given away. It can be donated, or it can be resold. I’m trying to work on my overconsumption. 

CM: That’s a good mindset to be in. And something my mom says that always sends me is “If I don’t wear some of my items, they yell at me and they say, ‘Hwy, you’ve already worn her!’” 

TK: Your mom is speaking facts! 

CM: Yes, you need to give everybody a chance! So is there a certain garment or style that you just don’t like? 

TK: Pleated skirts. I wouldn’t say I do not like them, but I just don’t know how to style them to fit my aesthetic and I want to so badly. They’re so cute. And especially as a skirt over pants. 

CM: Hmm. 

TK: Hey! People are making it work. But pleated skirts are a tricky one for me because I feel like it’s really feminine. Which is something that I don’t necessarily like, look for because I’’m not necessarily a very feminine person when it comes to my outfits. Other than when I dress up, but it always has this edginess to it or a bit of darkness to it. So pleated skirts. Every time I put it on I’m like… honestly too girly for me. 

CM: Right. Okay, so on the flipside of that: what’s your favorite garment? 

TK: Absolutely a low rise cargo pant. You can’t go wrong with a cargo. You really can’t. They are my safety. I have worn them, they have been through it all.  Especially a green or a camo green low rise cargo pant that’s loose fitted at the bottom. Chef’s kiss. Selfishly I’m wearing a pair right now. 

CM: Can you describe one of your favorite outfits you’ve ever worn? Take your time. I know you have at least 800 to pull from. [Laughter] 

TK: Off the top of my head, the outfit I wore to attend Africa night. The cream silk top with the green cargo pants and the pink and brown Adidas sneakers. Just because that silk top is not how it originally looked at before I did my manipulation. 

CM: Well what did you do to it? 

TK: It was like a size 12 top and it obviously needed to be fitted, but I was like, “Okay, I don’t have time to resew it. I gotta be out the door.” So I took some safety pins, and fashion tape and my little needle and thread, and I just started sewing and pinning and creating ruches and pleats wherever I could to make it more interesting and to also make it better. It took maybe 20 minutes. 

CM: So before we started the interview I said you were an unsung fashion hero and you said “no, no” and now you’re sitting up telling me how you’ve basically done a whole collection of your own clothes. So the truth has come out. That’s wonderful! And you know I did see you that night and I was like…  This is giving a custom Tami.

TK: Yeah, no, absolutely! 

CM: Right? So who is your style crush?

TK: Sierra Rena, @sierrerenas on Instagram. And I just love the way she plays with shapes and the way she plays the pattern. And that’s something I’m really trying to teach myself is to be more adventurous in my styling. And just experiment more. 

Like, a bad outfit only tells you what you do and do not like. So I just enjoy the way she’s like, extremely playful with her outfits, plays with proportions and everything. And she makes some of her own clothes as well.

CM: Well, I was gonna ask you for a one sentence style tip, but I feel like “a bad outfit only teaches you what you do and do not like”… that’s fashion iconery. That’s an amazing quote. Because I think a lot of people are afraid to even try something that may not work for fear of how they look. But if you never try it: you’re never going to know. And sometimes after a mistake you’ll be able to say, “Well, wait a minute, if we had flipped it this way, it would’ve ate.” 

TK: Precisely. 

CM: Well thank you so much! I’ll let you go so you can keep giving us diva. 

TK: It’s always a good time to talk to you. Bye, my love!

Tamilore’s Instagram: @tamilore_k

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By Clay Morris

Clay Morris is a member of the style team and a sophomore double majoring in Journalism and Political Science. His writing focuses on the intersection of fashion and race as well as the “hard news” of fashion. Morris’ fashion mindset comes from his mother who says: Style is not what you wear it’s how you live.