Still, I had to ask myself: Was I prepared for business suits and perfunctory pumps? Or was there a place where I could be myself?
I met April Reddickin 2008 when I invited myself to join her trip to Hong Kong Fashion Week with 20 of her Howard fashion merchandising students. April is a formidable designer whose fashions have been featured in Modern Bride and worn by Erykah Badu and Jill Scott. She graduated from Howard University School of Law in 1990 and has been trying to reconcile her creative urges within the legal field since.
“I really want to teach and practice fashion law,” she told me.
Fashion and law? Aren’t those terms oxymoronic? I wondered.
Then I noticed that one of the blogs I follow (Simone Butterfly’s YooHooDarling!) often posts about fashion-related legal issues, such as counterfeit stings, and designer knockoff stories. I decided to investigate the blogger.
Turns out “Simone” is Mariessa Terrell, a Washington fashion lawyer specializing in intellectual property matters. Her legal fashion role model was her mom, retired D.C. judge Mary Terrell, who fondly refers to herself as a “hat person.”
“Hats make me feel like ‘Alice in Wonderland’ — I can change my mood or attitude,” Mary Terrell said. As a U.S. attorney, she would wear a hat to court, take it off, handle her cases, then put it back on. After she was appointed to D.C. Superior Court in 1997, she’d removed her hat before she went on the bench. Today, she said, “I have over 200 hats and my own hat room.
“I never let anyone set the style for me,” Terrell added. “I pick a hat first and then decide what goes with the hat.”
Besides the obvious fashion influences, the fact that her mother was a lawyer and a judge “kept me from being intimidated by the law,” said Mariessa, who attended Howard University Law School. “I thought, ‘I can mold the law to fit me.’ ”
I was struck by her decision to take charge of her own legal career. I hadn’t done that. She asked me if I wanted to come to a fashion law symposium at Howard.
Are Christian Louboutin soles red? I wanted to shout.
I sat transfixed by what I had initially thought oxymoronic. Fashionable female lawyers. A whole panel of them.
Mariessa, the moderator, wore a fitted bespoke navy suit with sparkling ankle-strapped heels that a modern-day Dorothy, of “Wiz” fame, might have chosen. Business attire, but certainly not business as usual.
She had told me earlier that she found law school to be difficult until her third year, when she enjoyed her trademark and copyright classes because they “felt creative.”
After law school, Mariessa clerked for a female D.C. Superior Court probate judge and took dressing cues from her. “But I resented that I had to conform to a certain look.” Post clerkship, she worked with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, where she was assigned to a department that dealt with fashion goods — “nirvana.” Mariessa never intended to be a litigator, and part of that was a sartorial choice. So, her casual government office was a place for Mariessa to shine fashion-wise. She knew, however, to dress more conservatively when it was time to meet clients.