The recently crowned Miss USA, Cheslie Kryst, said she’ll never forget the time a judge at a law conference told her to wear a skirt instead of pants because judges prefer skirts.
The 27-year-old Black lawyer, who earned a law degree and an MBA at Wake Forest University, had a message for that judge after she won the competition where the three finalists were all women of color.
“Glass ceilings can be broken wearing either a skirt or pants,” Kryst said.
Alejandra Gonzalez of New Mexico was the first-runner up, and Oklahoma’s Triana Browne the second-runner up during the competition in Reno, Nevada.
The winner and finalists, which also included another woman of color in the top five, was also a not-so-subtle reminder and rebuke of President Donald Trump, who once owned the pageant but sold it after he ran for office in 2015 and after he famously disparaged immigrants and individuals of color.
Kryst’s victory made history also because it ensures that for the first time Miss USA, Miss America and Miss Teen USA are all Black women.
Kaliegh Garris of Connecticut was crowned Miss Teen USA 2019, while last fall, Nia Franklin of New York, won the Miss America title.
Kryst, who does pro bono work to reduce sentences for inmates, said she didn’t feel nervous as she advanced through each round of the competition.
“I just kept hearing my name get called. All I could think was, ‘This is really cool,’” she said.
It was also cool to send a message to the judge who tried to demean her years earlier.
According to NBC News, Kryst told reporters afterward she’ll never forget being in law school at Wake Forest participating in a moot court competition in Louisiana with a panel of judges who provided very little feedback to her and her partner.
“We stood there for 30 minutes after practicing for months and all you said was wear a skirt next time?” Kryst said.
“It was very frustrating. Don’t tell females to wear different clothes while you give the men substantive feedback on their legal arguments,” she said.
Kryst, who advances to the Miss Universe competition, said her interest in pageants began when she was 10 years old, watching her mother ride a horse-drawn carriage in a parade when she was named Mrs. North Carolina in 2002.
“It was a time in my life when I didn’t know who I was and wasn’t confident in myself. I was that little weird kid who had a uni-brow and didn’t have any friends. My hair was always pulled back. I thought, ‘I want to be just like her,’” she said.
Kryst went on to compete in pageants in high school.
“I can’t say pageants make you beautiful. I think they make your more confident in the person that you are,” she said.
“I’m still that same weird kid. I still like reading books. And at the end of the day, I like to sit by myself in my house and just watch movies. But I think pageants taught me all that, and my mom was really the one who introduced me to that and drew me to pageantry.”