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  • Mikelle Drew

28 Days of Black Fashion History: Naomi Sims

Before Naomi, there was Naomi . . . Sims, one of the first Black supermodels to grace the cover of a major US magazine. She would also serve as the blueprint for model turned entrepreneur, starting her own beauty empire after retiring from modeling.

Harper’s Bazaar from 1969 shot by Chris van Wangenheim

Born Naomi Ruth Sims on March 30, 1948 in Oxford, Mississippi, she was the youngest of 3 daughters. Her parents divorced shortly after she was born and later moved with her 2 sisters and her mother to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It’s unclear why, but her mother put Naomi into foster care shortly thereafter.

Sims was already 5’10” at the age of 13. But although this would be an asset in her later career as a model, it was a trait that would keep her ostracized and teased by her classmates in school. Yet, her painful upbringing and childhood insecurities would only push her to strive to be “someday really important” as she put it, an applaudable attitude for any Black child during a time when racial pride was being challenged and oppressed.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art; New York Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation

Sims moved to New York to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology in 1966 and simultaneously took night class at New York University. Needing some extra money, she decided to try modeling. However, her attempts at getting work were fraught with racial prejudice, with some agencies telling her she was too dark to model.