Fashion has a history of lacking diversity. Throughout the past hundred or so years, however, despite the dragging of ignorant feet and the reluctance of stubborn individuals and groups, it has become a significantly more diverse industry that has seen countless gorgeous, talented and striking black models break barriers to find success. Despite the business holding considerable prejudice against them, these women (and men) have become historical icons in far more than one way.

From the first black model to cover a Vogue magazine to the first African American woman to pose in a bikini for Sports Illustrated‘s Swimsuit Issue cover (take a wild guess who that is), these fashion firsts have been enormously significant in paving the way for other black models to find success of their own.

Of course, the fashion industry is still extraordinarily biased — far more than most, and often seen as some form of exception to the anti-racial prejudice rule — so there is still a very long way to go with regard to increasing the number of women of color on and in magazines, editorials, runway shows, fashion weeks, commercials, campaigns and so on. There should be more diverse models on the covers of magazines, there should be more women of color on runways and not just one or two per show, magazines should not be hiring white girls to dress in blackface rather than acquiring black models for shoots. While we can all hope this will continue to change and evolve to reflect the incredible variety of appearances in our actual society, it will likely change much faster if we, the public, call for it — and as long as there are brave icons like these to set the pace and move past all boundaries. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but these are some of the fashion firsts I admire most and thought to share.

Photo: NYT[ITPGallery]