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Updated: Aug 8, 2023

Darlene Gibson, a six-foot-tall black woman from Jamaica Queens, knows how to keep all eyes on her.

Her unique sense of style, model-like figure, beautiful smile, intense drive, and independent nature are qualities that keep everyone around her on their toes.

An incredibly God-fearing woman, one who will never be walked over -- and damn sure won't accept no shuga honey ice tea, from no one. Her heart of gold enraptures and embraces all who encounter her; she constantly goes above and beyond for those she loves, yet her kindness is never her weakness. She's a woman whose smile lights up a room, with a laugh that bolsters across a crowd, and a growl that will make anyone go silent.

Her adventures once required her to politic and parlay with friends and family on Jamaica Queens Ave; her struts once graced the streets of downtown Manhattan; her heart took leaps in Harlem, and she speaks to memories of childhood fun enjoying the world of Coney Island.

But eventually, her exhibition required she settle down -- making her way to the windy city, of Chicago, where she made strides in her career, married, and started a family. Her life experiences transformed into lessons she would instill in me, to teach me how to be strong, dependent on God and faith, wise, loving of all people, and eager to grow. The lessons I won't ever forget, are the ones about fashion. The ones that taught me to value appearance, develop an eye for color and showcase my unique sense of style. My mom is one person I have to thank for helping me foster my love and inspiration for fashion.

Ever since I was little, my mom would always remind me of the importance of your appearance. Every black mom has said some iteration of the expression, "When you walk out this house, you're a representation of me."

Well, that and "You only got one shot to make a good impression," were two statements my mom stood by. Her words reminded me that the way you look, and how you fashion yourself, can influence the thoughts people attach to you. And despite wanting to make a "good" impression, I wanted to make an impression that was reflective of myself, and the young woman I was growing into.

When I started coming into my own style, my mom and I would argue -- getting into heated discussions and debates about which colors best compliment each other, what shoes or accessories would better accentuate the look, or what might "look better," together. For a long time, and sometimes still to this day, it frustrated me -- because our styles are uniquely different. But as I grow older and wiser, the more I appreciate her perspective on fashion, the distinct eye for detail she has, her unwavering confidence, blunt attitude, and kindness -- because they've all taught me so much.

I sometimes dream of ways that I could be half as amazing as she is. I aspire to be more like her, and when I think about my influences and inspirations in fashion, so many signals that point back to her. So, in honor of my momma, Darlene Gibson-Clark, I'm going to share a few of her personal notes on fashion:

No outfit is ever complete without accessories.

Ma always wanted to strut her stuff.

From the way she talked to the way she walked, she knew how to heighten attention and raise eyebrows in such an eloquent and graceful way. With silver or gold candy on her arm, neck, or ears as the bait, she'd enhance any look with unique statement pieces that I'm grateful to hold in my collections to date. Ms. Darlene believed that confidence is a required accessory to any look. With a touch of perfume here, a favorite song on the stereo there, and a touch of her signature orange lipstick, her look had multiple cherries on top. She would never mismatch jewelry but admired accent colors to bring out her eyes, shoes, or the colors within the clothes she was wearing.

I sometimes wonder if she wanted people to recognize that they'd never meet another her -- or if she just wanted to leave them with a memory, a note on fashion they could take with them. I'm sure either worked because I have pieces from the Darlene Gibson archives that I rotate and still get compliments on to this day. My mother's style, as timeless as it is, is heavily reliant on how you feel about yourself.

Note #1: Good accessories will complete any look -- add confidence first, then pick the right layers to compliment your outfit.

Every fashion icon, has do's and don'ts they live by.

Fortunately for my mom, she's had years of experience to develop her list of fashion wills and wonts. As I've watched her and listened to her over the years, there's one thing my mom lives by -- trying your clothes on so you can visualize and experience your imagined look on you. There are many things that can go wrong with any look, but if you take some time to get a clear image of what you're thinking of you can assess what works and what doesn't -- and what you like or don't like.

As a lover of unique patterns and funky makeup palettes, my mom often had to find her way around a lot of different colors. For daytime looks, she would keep things soft, with neutral or softer colors, saving the intensity for the nighttime. To complete any look, Ms. Darlene was checking that mirror to make sure she liked what she was putting on; to make sure she felt confident in her look before walking out of the house.

When we express ourselves with clothes, we're working with blank canvases, trying to discern where we want the elements of our masterpiece. Of course, there are brushstrokes, colors, and other artistic choices we make that are specific to our individual style. But testing things out is what allows us to figure out our style preferences, developing a style that speaks to us personally.

Note #2: Fashion can get tricky fast -- don't overpower your look with too many elements, like mixing paints things will get muddy, FAST. So, make sure your developing your own notes on fashion, outlining your personal aesthetic.

Baby pose for a pic, and you better slay & smile!

In a generation that transitioned from pointed fingers and duck lips to structured aesthetic shots in remote locations, my mom has often scolded me for having more pictures of me making faces, and less of me smiling or capturing the full look. Ms. Darlene's signature pose is reminiscent of the third position in Ballet -- where an individual places the heel of one foot in front of the arch of the other foot to create the letter T. This t-pose, is one she still rips out to this day! With her shoulders pushed back, chin held high, and feet in the letter T, my mom has often replicated this pose to show off her shoes, outfit, and the empowerment rushing through her body.

Having poses you like is an important complement to a great outfit because looking good is one thing, but capturing how good you look is another. Despite living in an age where you couldn't see a photo of yourself until it was developed, my mother carried the t-pose with her -- a position passed down from her grandmother to her and later on to me. When you find positions that make you feel empowered, sexy, beautiful, chic, it affirms how you already feel about yourself -- or how you may want to feel about yourself.

Note #3: The worse fit pick, is one that's not captured -- and one where you don't feel confident.

Of course, confidence is something you build over time. But when you look good, smell good, and feel good, you're beginning a process to build confidence in new ways, that affirm and support who you are and who you're growing into. Take pictures of yourself, document your process -- and watch how much you grow and learn about yourself/ your style over time.

Hair is something we that takes work -- and sometimes we take risks, not knowing what to do.

Like me, my mom has changed her hair countless times. She's dyed it, fried it, and laid it to the side. I've seen her cut it all off, start over again, and make countless attempts to continue to fall in love with her natural hair -- seeking to spice up its color, discern how it needs moisture, and often braiding it up to protect it.

But one thing she's taught me is that when it comes to your hair -- you've got to work with what you got. Sometimes we find ourselves in situations not knowing what to do with our hair. Whether relying on supporting accessories or ensuring that hair appointments are scheduled, taking care of your hair and nails add to your confidence -- and often add to a look!

People will look at you one of two ways: from head to toe, or toe to head. Either way, make sure both look good -- and make sure both are good. It's one thing to get things painted over or extended, but it's another to not actually be doing the work to take care of your temple. If you're having struggles figuring out your hair, but still want to confidently embrace your look, seek out accessories that still go work with your outfit. Or budget in time and money for a hairstyle that boosts your confidence and makes you feel good so you can strut your stuff.

Note #4: Black girls don't have bad hair days -- we only have days where we choose to lay down our crowns -- picking up scarves, hats, or sometimes letting our hair fly free.

Act like a lady.

Sit-up straight.

Cross your legs at either your knees or ankles.

Don't sit with your legs cocked open.

Wear supportive undergarments.

Be respectful.

"Hey" is for horses.

Are a few lines that have pursed my mother's lips.

Visiting my grandfather for his 80th birthday a few years back, had me tickled as I began to note where some of these one-liners came from. Some of these lines may be "conservative," "traditional," or "old school" even, but they hold valuable takeaways for us all. Regardless of how you identify yourself, be fashionable and be someone of good character. Carry yourself in a light that's respectful, true to yourself, and one that makes you feel flattered.

For my mother, a few of these one-liners -- along with a few other notes mentioned above -- became things she embraced to look, feel, and be confident. These were not only principles she considered when it came down to her closet, but also when she was carrying herself into different rooms.

Sitting up straight with her head held high required she never cower to any man.

Crossing her leg at her knees or ankles were her personal power positions that encouraged her to assert her presence and demand her respect amongst corporate executives.

Supportive undergarments kept her body tight and her garments falling in the right places.

And the complementary nature of her blunt attitude and respectful tongue, hedged way for her to speak the truthfully while peacefully moving forward.

Note #5: Be flattering -- feel flattered to be you. Stand tall, with confidence, be independent, and be yourself -- don't try to replicate or imitate anyone else, just be you. Don't try to sell an image, be the rawest uncut version of yourself. Watch how far it'll get you -- and watch what you'll uncover in your personal style.

Wrinkles -- it's a no for me dawg.

In the book of Darlene, Wrinkles won't ever be in. For my mother, you should never, ever, EVER, walk out the house without ironing something that needs to be ironed. And for her --- everything that can get even just ONE wrinkle in it, needs to be ironed.

There's something about a polished look that is attractive to the human eye.

A look that has been carefully considered and cared for, not only gets compliments but just looks good. After accessorizing, styling, and piecing together a look, it would be a shame to walk out of the house with wrinkles, crimps, or stains making their debut as the star of the show. The good thing about trying things on, is you give yourself time to make changes and really prepare yourself to feel confident in your look.

Note #6: Polish off your look with final touches -- pour into yourself some positive self-talk and assess for final checks before you walk away from the mirror.

These six notes are only a fraction of Darlene Gibson-Clark's notes on fashion. A few of them mesh some of her lessons, with lessons I'm developing myself. These are notes that I've been honored to document and share with you as I celebrate her life today. I wouldn't be the young woman I am without a mother like her. I'm incredibly grateful for every time she dressed me up like a baby doll, let me figure out my style -- even with some embarrassing style choices-- and supported my passions and God-given talents, even when they didn't make the most sense.

As I look at these photos of my mom in her youth, I see so much of the woman I aspire to be in her, how she asserts herself, and how she embraced a journey to discover her voice, her confidence, and her style.

Sometimes I look at her now and realize that journey has never stopped. And I can only pray for more opportunities for her to explore the world, discover herself, and embrace all of the amazingness that she is.

Ma, hold fast to some of the things you've taught me. Consider some of the lessons you've opened me up to uncover along my own life's journey. You are beautiful in every way imaginable. The gold mines of your soul are treasured with the finest, rarest of jewels -- precious beyond comparison, priceless. It's an honor for us all to witness your life and call you mother, sister, aunt, daughter, cousin, and friend. You are the essence of a woman who is excellent [spiritual, capable, intelligent, and virtuous]. I've seen you smile a the future, unknown. I've witnessed you love, despite the pain. I've seen your press when exhausted, and there's nothing left to give. And above all, I've seen you hold your own -- relying on Jesus as your refuge and strength. I'm proud of you mama. I look up to you. I admire your boldness, and your will to live & carry on. Don't you stop girl! May this celebration of life bring fulfillment, peace, joy, and rest. Count all your blessings -- because there are so many more to come. God's going to keep on favoring you.

Thank you for being my first, my forever fashion icon.

Happy Birthday to you ma, I love you.

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