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  • Writer's pictureMikelle Drew

28 Days of Black Fashion History: Cicely Tyson

You’re probably familiar with her as an activist and actress, but what you might not know is that Cicely Tyson started her career as a fashion model. Which makes sense because the woman has incredible style!

Ok, actually, in all fairness, her first job was a secretary for the Red Cross, but she was discovered by a fashion editor at Ebony magazine. She attended Barbara Mae Watson’s modeling school, the first of its kind in the US (a modeling school for African Americans) as she put it "just to keep her friend company". And within a year, she became one of the top Black models globally, earning $65/week at her peak (which was big money in the 1950s.)

Cicely Tyson poses for a portrait, circa 1960.

(Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Tyson appears on the cover and inside Ebony magazine, December 1962.

At Heathrow Airport, London, UK, February 18, 1973.

(Photo by George Stroud/Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

As a Black woman, hair can tell a story, and Tyson made several memorable hair choices, all for the sake of authenticating the characters she played. But at its height, Tyson became the face of the Black is Beautiful movement, gracing the covers of Ebony, Jet and Essence magazines with her short afro, cornrows or braids that boldly made a statement.

Here, she talks about how she inspired the natural hair movement.

Tyson, captured by Lord Snowdon, avid photographer and husband to Princess Margaret, in the Bill Whitten dress she wore to the New York première of 'Sounder' in 1972. (Photo: Snowdown/Camera Press)

A scene from the CBS drama 'East Side/West Side'. Cicely Tyson was the first Black woman to wear natural hair on television. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

Cicely Tyson of the cover of Ebony magazine, January 1979.

I wanted to alter the narrative about how Black people, and Black women particularly, were perceived by reflecting their dignity.

As her acting career began to take precedence, Cicely Tyson continued to be a style icon. She has worked with designer, B. Michael, for years, creating some showstopping and memorable looks, like the history-making sculptural column dress worn to the 2018 Governor awards to the famous internet breaking “Cicely hat” worn to singer, Aretha Franklin’s, funeral.

Tyson with then husband, famed jazz musician Miles Davis. They are arguably one of the coolest and best dressed couples.

Cicely Tyson, wearing one of Patrick Kelly's signature button dress creations, at the premiere for "Cry Freedom" in Los Angelos, California.

(Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

Appearing at the 2006 TNT Black movie awards.

Cicely Tyson with her designer & stylist, B. Michael, at the 2012 NAACP Image Awards.

On the red carpet at the 2016 American Theatre Wing Gala honoring Cicely Tyson.

On the cover of the November 2017 edition of Elle magazine for their Women in Hollywood issue.

At Aretha Franklin's funeral wearing the infamous (and much memed) church hat.

At the 2018 Governors Awards in a two piece ensemble with metallic leather gloves. The outfit would mark the first time a recipient of the award wore a Black designer on the night of their win.

Rocking an ombre lob at her hand and footprint ceremony at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, California.

Tyson was, no doubt, an icon and continued to show the world how to grow older gracefully and fashionably, making a statement about the beauty of Black women with every fro, lash, bob and fabulous outfit!

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