On A Roll

Why Everyone Loves Kerry Washington

Kerry Washington was named People's Best Dressed Woman in the world this week—an achievement that rounds out a big year. Allison Samuels on why the Scandal actress is an accessible style icon.

Latisha Johnson admits she’s never had a true-to-life fashion and beauty icon of color she felt completely compatible or comfortable with. Halle Berry, according to Johnson, has a beauty that seems larger than life and distant. Beyoncé and Rihanna share the same type of physical presence: flawless and untouchable. And then there’s Kerry Washington.

Johnson was among of the thousands of women who tweeted on Wednesday about their unconditional love for the 36-year-old star of the ABC hit show Scandal. This week, People magazine named Washington its “Best Dressed Woman of the Year,’’ setting off an Internet and Twitter outpouring of kudos and support for the actress who, this year, certainly appears to have it all.

Washington headed the list that also included Academy Award winner Jennifer Lawrence, songwriter Solange Knowles, and actress Jenna Dewan Tatum.

“Kerry is the girl who’s like your sister. She's fabulous but she’ll help you get fabulous too if you ask,’’ said Johnson, a nurse’s aide in Chicago. “She pretty, but pretty like someone in my family pretty. I look at her and think, 'I can look like her too if I get myself together, lol!’’

Washington has undoubtedly struck a nerve with the masses in her role as legal and political consultant Olivia Pope. As the first African-American actress to headline a major network drama in over 30 years, Washington has easily amassed a bevy of loyal fans eager to see a woman who looks just like her grace the covers of industry bibles such as Vanity Fair and Glamour. This year, she also became only the second African-American woman nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Actress in 40 years. (Cicely Tyson was nominated in 1995.) These are honors and acknowledgments not regularly bestowed on the “black girl next door.”

“She’s a girl who’s learned what looks good on her, and we’ve watched her learn what works and what doesn’t,’’ said Bethann Hardison, former model and editor-at-large of Vogue Italia. “She’s a regular woman in that it takes time to find what makes a woman look good and people see that—and they like to see that. They can relate to that in their own lives and they love Kerry for that.”

Hollywood style guru Dion Peronneau agrees. “Kerry is the less-is-more girl,’’ says Peronneau, head of the Peronneau Agency, which has counted clients such as Don Cheadle, Beyoncé, and Alicia Keys over the years. “She can have fun at the Teen Choice Awards wearing a whimsical Stella McCartney dress or light up the red carpet with an ultra-serious Rochas gown," she says. "All with comfort and ease. Everyone can’t do that and people respond to that ability.’’

In a recent Glamour interview, Washington happily admitted to asking good friend Tracy Ellis Ross (Diana’s daughter) the correct way of pronouncing “Hermès.’’

“I can tell she has no pretense, nothing phony about her,’’ said 43-year old Jesse Lamont from Macon, Georgia, who blogs about Washington. “She’s amazing but she’s not over-trying. I love her look, her work, and her smarts. She’s the package deal which I haven’t seen in years with someone who looks like me!”

When it comes to iconic women of color, style, and substance, there are few familiar names that roll off the lips with relative ease. Diahann Carroll, Lena Horne, Dorothy Dandridge, first lady Michelle Obama, Ebony co-founder Eunice Johnson, and, of course, the legendary Diana Ross.

Their club of fashion elegance is small and nearly impossible to enter because admittance requires an impeccable taste, a clear understanding of fashion and its purpose, and an air of personal mystery in the midst of overwhelming popularity. (Beyoncé and Rihanna missed the cut due to the latter.)

Washington actually managed to marry this past summer under the radar and without notice until days after the ceremony.

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“She is the iconic intelligent, feminine, fashionable working woman of our time," said Washington’s longtime friend and former White House social secretary Desirée Rogers. "Men want to be with her, and women want to be her. Her style is unpredictable—from edgy to the girl across the hall."