ON THIS DATE in 1967, nineteen-year-old Naomi Sims graced the cover of Fashions of The Times, a New York Times supplement. The next year, she appeared on the cover of Ladies Home Journal, making her the first African-American model to be featured on the front of a mainstream women’s magazine. “Naomi was the first,” the designer Halston told The New York Times in 1974. “She was the great ambassador for all black people. She broke down all the social barriers.”
A Pittsburgh native, Sims didn’t set out to be a model but needed money for school while attending New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology in 1967. When agencies turned her down, some saying she was too dark, she went straight to photographer Gosta Peterson, who shot her for Fashions of The Times. The model promoted herself when agencies continued to put her off and by 1969 was earning $1,000 a week.
“Sims was known within her industry as someone who showed up on time and prepared, usually having already done her own hair and makeup because few stylists knew how to work with a black woman,” The New York Times wrote in 2009.