Does Zoey Johnson of ‘Grown-ish’ change her style around different men?

Fashion holds a significant role in character development and adds to the mise en scene


(photo courtesy of the grownish facebook page)

By Cynthia Ntinunu

There are numerous elements that go into a show to make it stand out from the competition. It’s not just the actors or the storyline but there are aspects like lighting, setting and conflict that make a quality TV show. But there is one specific area that doesn’t get enough attention – the fashion.

Believe it or not, fashion plays a huge role in character development and setting portrayal. A cast’s apparel gives the audience key context clues into the mood, personality and interests of the character. Furthermore, fashion represents so much more than the clothes a character wears. It’s a story within itself and that’s exactly the case for the show “Grown-ish.”

“Grown-ish,” the new hit series on Freeform, is a spinoff of the-oh-so-popular “Black-ish.” It follows protagonist Zoey Johnson (Yara Shahidi) on her journey through her first year of college. It’s a healthy mix of comedy and content many of us can relate to about college. The show covers a wide range of topics like classes, stress, drugs, friendships, parties, relationships and more.

While focusing on these important topics, there’s a constant implicit focus on fashion. This minor yet important detail is mainly seen through the two styles Zoey emulates while hanging out with two different guys.

Zoey has two important male friends in her life, Aaron (Trevor Jackson) and Luca (Luka Sabbat.) Each guy has a different style and vibe of their own. When Zoey hangs out with either Aaron or Luca, the audience can see a stark contrast in her style. Zoey dresses very differently when she hangs out with each guy, which poses some interesting questions about her character’s identity. Before we attempt to unpack this, we need to fully understand the stylistic differences that crop up in Zoey’s apparel when with each male friend.


Zoey is probably the most logical and academically focused in her friend group. She was one of the popular girls in high school who had everything figured out, but is having difficulty applying that to college. She has a crush on Aaron, but also enjoys hanging out with Luca. Her style is a combination of preppy, funky and simple all in one. She sports lots of denim, graphic tees, stripes, fun prints, lighter colors and cute boots.


Aaron is the “hot” upperclassman who Zoey’s interested in. He’s into revolutionary work, especially in regard to the black community. He is a player. He can pretty much get any girl he wants. His style is pretty street/urban. He rocks utility jackets and structured looking shoes.


Luca is the “I-don’t-care-about-anything” freshman. He is arguably the most relaxed person in the friend group. He smokes a lot of weed and just floats about. His chillness is expressed through his style. He wears a lot of loose-fitting clothing. He is more experimental and avant-garde in his style and blurs the line on gendered pieces.

When Zoey is with Aaron, she is often seen wearing tighter-fitting clothing. She dresses a little more “stereotypically feminine” or like a stereotypical college girl. She is often seen rocking miniskirts, tight dresses, shorts and heels.

There are many potential explanations for the style ambiguity on Zoey’s part, but one could be setting. When Zoey is hanging with Aaron they are often in a party-esqu e setting or fooling around, which means there’s a certain attire associated with those activities.

For women, usually it’s shorter and more form fitting pieces. In these types of settings, less is usually more. It could also have something to do with the fact that Zoey wants to impress Aaron. But one can only hypothesize.

Changing gears to understand Zoey and Luca’s dynamic, we know that Luca is more chill and experimental with his style. We can see Zoey dressing in wide legged jeans, larger sweaters and pieces most people wouldn’t buy on a regular basis. They’re more out of the box. It feels like Zoey tries to emulate that kind of vibe which Luca portrays in his own style. Again, Zoey could be trying to impress Luca, in the sense of trying to look cool or different than everyone else. Observing how Zoey dresses speaks to a deeper societal issue of forced beauty standards – but that’s a topic for another day.

I do believe that Zoey dresses for herself, but there are many theories that can be drawn by just comparing the styles we see. More than showing how different she dresses with each guy, this demonstrates that fashion is more of an essential component to shows than we think. A show’s fashion tells its own narrative without words as seen in “Grown-ish.”

 Cynthia Ntinunu can be reached by email at [email protected]