If you don't already have a friend like Yvonne Orji in your life, consider making one a top priority. Spending even a few minutes with the star has the same giddying effect as a champagne brunch—they're both equally bubbly, after all. The thing about Orji that she brings to all of her projects, be they a headlining comedy special or her Emmy-nominated work on Insecure, is a singular ability to assess a situation. Not only does she seem like someone who puts in the work to know and understand herself, but her blend of bracing frankness and grace has made Orji a beloved, roundly admired figure for a massive faction of young women. It makes plenty of sense then that when retail giant TJ Maxx approached Orji about joining forces for their Find Your Maxx mentorship program, her role would extend far beyond just fashion advice—she's dedicating herself to helping her yet-to-be-selected mentee reach their full potential in life with one-on-one sessions and $50,000 toward fulfilling their dream. And she's doing it all in some seriously chic shoulder pads, too.
Orji's style is a lot like her work in many ways: It's original, distinct, and playful, but rarely without something to really say. It's also not without room for reflection and growth. Orji shares with Byrdie that her 30s have been a journey of self-discovery, one that encompasses everything from her confidence and career to outward manifestations like the way she dresses.
"There's this risk of who I wanted to be and who I actually was," she explains. When the pandemic forced everyone indoors, it also forced Orji to take a long look in the proverbial mirror. "I asked myself, do you like that? Or do you like that because everybody else says you should like that? What do you want?" The Orji that emerged is now ready to pass the torch, sharing those same life-leading lessons with her future mentee and finding some excellent outfits along the way. Byrdie spoke with Orji about finding her sense of style, the icons that inspire her, and how she's inspiring the next generation in turn.
On Self-Discovery In Her 30s
"The thing that really cemented the need for growth on my heart was a sermon I heard by T.D, Jakes, and it was entitled, I Didn't Know I Was Me. Something about that title just rocked me because, in my 30s, I didn't know that was something you could say or feel, or be experiencing. And to hear this man who's clearly done a lot of great things in his life say that, for me, I was like, 'Oh, my gosh, what if that's what I'm experiencing? Going through that journey, when the Find Your Max campaign came up, I was like, I want people to experience the level of freedom that I experienced doing the work of therapy and discovering myself.
"I like to say nothing tastes better than freedom—it's the sexiest piece of clothing you could put on. The euphoric feeling I have now where I can walk into rooms and be confident and not have to worry like, 'If I say this, will they think I'm difficult?' That's the freedom that tastes great, that looks great, that feels great. Being able to mentor whoever the lucky winner is, to be able to get there, is a joy of my soul right now."
The Style Icons Inspiring Her
"I grew up very much a tomboy, you know. In the 106 & Park era, Aaliyah was that person who made it fun and sexy to have the baggy pants and the midriff. That oversized look is kind of coming back now with the athleisure look, and there's a part of me that loves the comfortable-chic of that stuff. Molly [of Insecure] was such a great role to play because she introduced me to the sexiness, the femininity of fashion. And then Yvonne in my real, actual life, I'm like, "Ooh, how can I go out and be comfortable, but still cute?" I was like, how do we make sweatpants sexy? I love blazers. Like I love blazers. I love a good shorts set, you see from my first HBO special. You know, when thigh's out the fun's out! Blazers, shorts, and thigh-high boots, that's kind of my sweet spot."
The Trends She's Trying For Fall (And Beyond)
"I don't even know what the trends are right now because I've been on tour! But I definitely got into sneakers a lot more, I'm becoming a little bit of a sneakerhead! In the pandemic, I had a bout with sciatica—like, What is this! I am in my 30s! This is not something that I should be experiencing! But you know, I couldn't wear heels for a little bit. And so especially going back out on the road, I had to really fall in love with trying to make sneakers fashionable when I was so used to high heels and boots."
The Outfits That Make Her Feel Powerful
"I feel like doing the work that I did makes me feel like my full powerful self in anything I'm wearing. And I think that's like that's the whole point of this campaign, to not only Find Your Maxx in yourself and your work but who you are. I'll never forget, I had this pink set and I popped it on with I think some neon green sneakers. Everyone was like, 'Oh my god! What was that? We love that outfit!' And I was thinking this because, again, I was totally comfortable. It's me that's making the clothes, the clothes don't make me! And when I'm doing the special, I'm full glam, and they're also like, 'Oh my gosh, you're sexy!' Anything I give you, it's gonna be great because it's me, you know? You heighten the clothes."
The Piece That's Been In Her Closet Forever
"I have a piece that I wear all the time, all the time. I love, I love structure. One thing about me, you're always gonna get a high shoulder or billowing sleeves, something—I need to have some kind of structure. When I toured with Chris Rock, I got this oversized sweatshirt but it's fancy—it's not just a sweatshirt! It has billowed sleeves and the front is longer than the back so it kind of goes with everything from palazzo pants or skinny jeans and heels or sneakers. It's my favorite thing to travel with so you'll probably see me photographed in it several times. And it's comfortable! but it's also like 'Where'd you get that from?!"
The Piece That Means So Much To Her
"One thing I'm really loving right now is my Y letter chain. When you have a first name that starts with Y, good luck finding your letter in one of those places! Everything is just A, B, and C names, I think forget the end of the alphabet! I recently got a very dainty diamond Y, and then I got like a chunky gold Y. I didn't use to wear a lot of jewelry because I was a tomboy for a lot of years but when I put those pieces on and I'm like, Oh my god, I finally have a nameplate! I think eventually I'm going to make a full nameplate because again, you're not finding that walking into the store! That's gonna have to be custom! My Y necklaces right now are really making my heart sing."
How Her Style's Changed Over The Years
"Colorblocking, really bold colors, or structure. So you're always going to get very playful, some sexy, and something that will make your head turn. And I can go high-low, I can go from like, super luxury to super accessible. For me, it is that thing of it doesn't matter where it's from—it's 1) does this make my heart sing, and 2) is this fire?"
The Best Fashion Advice She's Heard
"I don't know if I got this from anyone but I know just being on the red carpets over the last couple of years, for me, the fashion advice that I live by that I would offer anyone else is wear what makes you feel comfortable. If it's too short and you're pulling it down all night? Girl, why? Why are we doing this? Or if it's too billowy! If I go to these award shows and I have this billowy thing? I love to dance, so how's this gonna work at the after-party?! It's not! What can I wear that I will feel good and comfortable and secure in myself, and not like I tried to try to be too sexy and I'm uncomfortable or I tried to be too big and now I can't move like I want to move.
"I understand that sometimes people are like, 'you have to be uncomfortable for fashion!' And sometimes you might have to wear that shoe that's not all the way comfortable but you want to be able to look back at pictures and be like, I recognize myself as opposed to I would have told me that was okay. And why did I listen to them? So it's always like where what you can look back on and know that like you felt like your Maxx in it, not somebody else's Maxx."
The Staples She Can't Live Without
"Blazers and sneakers. And as a Black woman, I would say moisturized skin. I love shea butter, I have whipped shea butters. So your skin looks nourished, your outfit is poppin', and your confidence is glowing. It's like, who's gonna stop you?!"