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Quinta Brunson Is Dressed to Talk

The Abbott Elementary creator has a lot to say — and she’s using fashion to say it.

Just after 1 p.m. on a Monday in Los Angeles, Quinta Brunson, the reigning queen of television, turns on the camera for her Zoom interview. Unlike the red carpets she’s set ablaze since her award-winning series, Abbott Elementary, became an instant success, for this video call, the actress is dressed modestly in a bucket hat, cozy quilted top, and double-barreled gold hoops. (She would tell me later that no matter her mood, earrings give her a jolt of life, because “hoops are my superpower.”) This afternoon, she’s running on low for a very good reason: 24 hours earlier, she wrapped hosting Saturday Night Live (and attending the requisite after-party) for the first time — a dream gig she manifested after entering a career in comedy. A dream gig that’s actually more of a full-circle moment: The late-night show is what inspired Brunson’s career. 

Quinta Brunson

Rosaline Shahnavaz

SNL is pretty much what fully got me into comedy. During college is when I started really watching SNL consistently. Every Saturday night, I watched, and it made me be like, Man, these people ... I know they’re funny people, but there has to be more to it than that. How did they learn to work with people at such a fast pace and make this show every week?” That question led Brunson to investigate what a career in this world could actually look like.

“Once I found out there were places that people went to congregate and that there were schools to practice the craft of comedy, that’s when I started looking at it as a career goal,” she says. The path forward led to taking sketch and improv classes at Chicago’s The Second City after attending Temple University, where she studied advertising and broadcast telecommunications. Next came roles as a digital content creator, first through her self-produced series The Girl Who’s Never Been on a Nice Date, and then as a staffer at BuzzFeed Video, where she created, wrote, executive produced, and starred in the series Broke and Up for Adoption. In 2017, she secured her first nomination — and walked her first red carpet — for acting in a comedy for Broke at The Streamy Awards. 

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After leaving BuzzFeed in 2018, Brunson continued creating shows as well as acting. She landed on-screen and voice roles in New Girl, Lazor Wulf, and Big Mouth and joined the first season of A Black Lady Sketch Show. Her momentum as a comedic actress kept her busy, but she shifted her priorities, creating her own starring role that was closer to her roots. In December 2021, Abbott Elementary, a story inspired by Brunson’s mother — a devoted kindergarten teacher in the Philadelphia public school system where Brunson grew up — premiered on ABC. It became a number-one hit TV series by the time the bell rang on its freshman season. She was on her way.

Brunson and her cast have been honored by everyone from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (the entity behind the Golden Globes) to The Screen Actors Guild; she and her co-star Sheryl Lee Ralph both made history as the second Black women to win Emmys in their respective categories (Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series and Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series) at the2022 awards — nine months after Abbott’s debut. 

Quinta Brunson
Dress: Azzi + Osta. Earrings: House of Emmanuel.

Rosaline Shahnavaz

However, dressing for these well-deserved moments initially left Brunson a bit on edge. Stylists weren’t exactly vying for an opportunity to dress her petite frame. “Not only am I 4-foot-11, [but] I’m 4-foot-11 with breasts and a butt. And that’s just the cardinal sin: to be short and have the nerve to have any type of curve,” she says with a playful eye roll. After a few stop-and-goes with several stylists, she found Bryon Javar — the talent behind other small-framed stars Marsai Martin and Karrueche Tran — and they were a perfect match. From her swooping Gaurav Gupta dress at the Billboard Music Awards to the stunning Jean-Louis Sabaji scalloped shell column gown at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, Javar did the thing.

“That one was magical,” Javar says of the Jean-Louis Sabaji creation. “Quinta and I had a long talk, and she said, ‘I want to be very simple, but I want to be clean.’ She’s always been doing these very fun avant-garde fashion moments, but she wanted to show people she could be a fashion girl in a simple moment.” When she stepped into the Lebanese designer’s dress, Brunson didn’t want to take it off, recalls Javar. “It made me feel so good that I gave her what she wanted.”

“Before working with Bryon, there were times where I would work with other stylists and I just have to be like, ‘I’m not this young,’ or, ‘This feels too young for me.’ And it would be like, ‘No, you can pull it off,’” says Brunson. “And I was like, ‘But it’s not about pulling it off. It’s about what I want to represent when I come to certain award shows or certain events I have to do.’ I’m not just an actress, not just a writer, not just a producer, not just a showrunner. I want to make sure I can convey who I am through what I wear.”

Brunson and Javar also connect on another important point: The deep understanding that this isn’t about reinventing Brunson’s style or who she is at her core but giving her the space to explore and expand her comfort zone.

“I don’t think reinvention is always intentional. I don’t think I’ve ever sat down and said, ‘It’s time for me to reinvent.’ I think that as my life changes, career changes, [and] work changes, the reinventions are necessary. I like to look at it more as evolution and moving with the waves of time,” Brunson says. 

Quinta Brunson
Blazer: Harry Halim. Shoes: Brandon Blackwood. Earrings: Hanut Singh. Rings: Anabela Chan.

Rosaline Shahnavaz

She’s also using her fashion evolution as an opportunity to embrace a key element of writing 101: Show; don’t tell. “It’s another extension of me showing who I am without talking. More and more, I start to hate talking as I go further in my journey. Things like fashion can help you say something without saying anything. And so I’ve come to really appreciate that,” she explains. And the work she’s doing with Byron is essential to nailing what it is she’s trying to say. “As I talk to Bryon about how I want to present [myself at] an award show or an event, I’m like, Wow … I’m getting to say who I am through the clothing and I plan to do that more because I plan to talk less in the future.”

According to fashion and pop culture critic Nina Parker, the synergy between Brunson and Javar is clearly working for the greater good: representation. “There are petite women who watch these red carpets for style tips for when they have weddings or events. They want to see themselves reflected,” Parker explains. “With Quinta, her style picks reflect who she really is, and I love the diversity of it. You don’t have to have one fluid style for the red carpet. With each look, it really shows her personality. She’s energetic. She’s fun. She’s cute. All of those things really translate into the outfits she chooses. They’re very upbeat [and] they’re sleek at times, but it always looks effortless. She never looks uncomfortable.” 

Quinta Brunson
Suit: Louis Vuitton. Jewelry: Jennifer Fisher.

Rosaline Shahnavaz

When she’s not onscreen or walking a red carpet, Brunson’s likely in comfy pants, good sneakers, boots, a nice jacket, and a vintage tee. (“I’m not the biggest jeans fan, because jeans aren’t always tailored for me correctly,” she says.) There are two T-shirts she keeps in constant rotation: a Philadelphia 76ers T-shirt featuring Allen Iverson and Dikembe Mutombo and another with R&B singer-songwriter Victoria Monét. They’re her go-tos for a reason.

"One of my friends, she gifted me the 76ers T-shirt. I wear that shirt too much. I swear I wash it, but it just makes me feel good and it’s comfy. I love it,” she says of the sentiment imbued into the top. “Once again, even though it’s just a T-shirt, it says a lot about who I am. That year that they went to the playoffs meant a lot to me. And I’m a team player. I feel like it just says a lot about me.”

Quinta Brunson
Dress: Prabal Gurung. Earrings: Veronica Tharmalingam.

Rosaline Shahnavaz

With the tee featuring Victoria Monét, she wears it with pride, although it goes against one of her style ethos: “One thing about me: I rarely like to wear stuff with people’s faces on it. But Victoria is this music artist I just love, and she gifted me this T-shirt. I like her work so much. The way her face is on the T-shirt, people don’t even know who it is at first, so they very often ask me about it. I’m excited to get to talk about her.”

That’s one of Brunson’s gifts. Whether she’s ready to talk up your next favorite singer or introduce audiences to new faces on television, she’s intentional about authentic connections. And clearly, it works: Abbott fans immediately resonated with Brunson’s messaging.

Quinta Brunson
Dress: Prabal Gurung. Earrings: Veronica Tharmalingam.

Rosaline Shahnavaz

“This is a mockumentary, I feel they do better when you have people who look more familiar, look more like people you actually know than a show that is a typical single camera, multi-camera,” she says. “It’s weird because Abbott turned into that inadvertently, but that’s not where it started. I wanted to portray people who looked real. And that inherently comes with, in my opinion, women who have curves.” 

Although Brunson has been celebrated for featuring body-positive stars Lisa Ann Walter (acerbic Melissa Schemmenti) and Janelle James (eternally shady principal Ava Coleman), she clarifies, above all things, their enormous talent motivated her, not their size. “Lisa auditioned and she was perfect for the role. Janelle auditioned and she was perfect for the role. It was more embracing those women in the way they look than rejecting them and their talent because of the way they look,” says the showrunner. “Their talent is incredible. I lead with talent first ... I don’t really care how you look if the talent is there. That’s how we should be doing things in general.”

Quinta Brunson
Dress: Azzi + Osta. Earrings: House of Emmanuel.

Rosaline Shahnavaz

Brunson’s love for her own body came with training as a dancer. “I did all of it: ballet, tap, jazz, modern, [and] acrobatics,” she says. “After a certain point, you either make that your profession or you move on.”

Her path may have changed, but the confidence instilled from dancing centers her every day. “Dancing is learning how to have control over your own body at a very young age. We usually hear about control in a manipulative way or in reference to sex, sexual control, or attractiveness. But I’m talking about truly having ownership over the mechanics of your own body, learning to control different muscles,” Brunson says. “I’ll talk to friends who came into appreciating their bodies much older or who still have trouble appreciating their own body and it makes me realize over and over and over again how much dance did for me. My body is mine. I work it, I control it, and it doesn’t belong to anyone else. I believe in God. I have a very spiritual relationship. I believe I’m a vessel. But this is still my temple.”

Quinta Brunson Is Living — and Laughing — Out Loud
Dress: Azzi + Osta Earrings: House of Emmanuel Rings: David Yurman & Swarovski.

Rosaline Shahnavaz

She takes a breath and lets out a deep sigh, “I always think of that freaking Beyoncé lyric, ‘I was born free,’ in ‘Church Girl.’ This is starting to really be my ministry. I was born free. I can do what I want,” she says. “That’s important for us, especially for Black girls to remember. You were born free. You can do whatever you want. And the more you do it, the more it may piss some people off, but the sentiment is still true. You can do whatever you want. I just want to feel like that this summer.”


  • Editor-in-Chief
  • Sally Holmes

  • Photographer
  • Rosaline Shahnavaz

  • Director of Photography
  • Brandon Scott Smith

  • Stylist
  • Bryon Javar

  • Styling Assistant
  • Kimberly Batino

  • Tailor
  • Marc LittleJohn

  • Makeup Artist
  • Renee Loiz

  • Hairstylist
  • Alexander Armand

  • Manicurist
  • Emi Kudo using Dior Vernis

  • Assistant Camera
  • Derek Smith

  • Creative Director
  • Jenna Brillhart

  • Photo Director
  • Kelly Chiello

  • Video Director
  • Justine Manocherian

  • Beauty Direction
  • Hayley Mason

  • Fashion Direction
  • Corinne Pierre-Louis

  • Social Direction
  • Danielle Fox

  • Production Assistant
  • Amanda Lauro

  • Booking
  • Talent Connect Group
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