Whether she's tackling race issues on the politically minded family sitcom Black-ish or championing girls' education alongside Michelle Obama, Yara Shahidi isn’t afraid to make a statement. And getting dressed is no different. The 17-year-old's wardrobe is a vibrant, carefully measured mix of Chanel, Gucci, and trendy pieces from Zara. "Wearing color gives you confidence," she says. "You have no choice but to own your space." She attributes her eclectic taste partly to her TV character, Zoey Johnson, a kindhearted queen bee with a flair for unexpected pairings. "Zoey was always very adventurous. As her style evolved, so did mine."
But Shahidi has been having fun with fashion for a while. As a junior high and high school student at the Immaculate Heart Catholic school in L.A. (a city she moved to from Minneapolis when she was 4), she put her own spin on the classic uniform. "I loved making it my own by adding a bow with a fun pattern," she says. "The dress code made me appreciate how clothing is an extension of self-expression. I love that it's something I have power over every day."
Having wrapped up her senior year through the online program at N.Y.C.'s Dwight School this spring, Shahidi is headed to Harvard, where she plans to double major in social studies and African-American studies. (The former FLOTUS wrote her a letter of recommendation.) But in a funny twist she'll take a gap year to star in a spin-off show, College-ish, about Zoey's experience on campus, and also to focus on her philanthropic efforts to help students in low-income communities. "We already did a lot this year," she says. "But there's so much more to be done."
For more stories like this, pick up InStyle's August issue on newsstands and available for digital download July 7.
Photographer: Emman Montalvan/Tack Artist Group; hair: César DeLeön Ramirêz/Mizani global artistic director/crowdMGMT; makeup: Emily Cheng/Chanel Les Beiges; styling: Jason Bolden/Tack Artist Group; tailoring: Lauren Bradley/Lars Nord; manicure: Jolene Brodeur/Essie/Tack Artist Group; production: Kelsey Stevens Productions