The Miss USA crown and sash are headed to North Carolina.
Charlotte corporate attorney Cheslie Kryst won the Miss USA pageant Thursday night in Reno, Nev.
Kryst, 28, edged out Miss New Mexico and Miss Oklahoma for the honor with Miss New Mexico Alejandra Gonzalez the first runner-up.
In addition to being a litigation attorney with Charlotte’s Poyner Spruill law firm, Kryst is a fashion blogger who aims to give women advice on dressing for the workplace with her blog, White Collar Glam.
During her years on the pageant circuit, Kryst forged a friendship with current Miss America Nia Franklin, and now serves as Franklin’s attorney.
Franklin also has North Carolina ties. She is a North Carolina native who attended East Carolina University.
Kryst, who earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of South Carolina and her law degree from Wake Forest University, is passionate about empowering women in the workplace – especially when it comes to presenting themselves through fashion.
In an April profile in The Charlotte Observer, she described how she became fixated with the topic of female fashion in the workplace.
At a law school moot court competition one day in 2017, she and her female partner faced off against two male students, and afterward, one of the judges — another black woman — had only one piece of advice after Kryst’s 20-minute oral argument: Wear a skirt next time. (She had worn a pantsuit.) Kryst posted about the experience on a Facebook page called Pantsuit Nation.
The post got 28,000 likes and 1,900 comments, and it fueled her desire to launch a fashion blog, White Collar Glam, dedicated to helping career women dress professionally. The blog posts, with photography by one of her younger brothers, range from frank advice and how-tos (“Is the double-breasted blazer for you?” and “Never wear these 10 items to work”) to posts about her favorite outfits and where to buy them. Visitors number in the thousands per month.
Kryst is a supporter of the non-profit Dress for Success, and has said she planned to promote the charity’s work if given the Miss USA title.
Kryst didn’t grow up a pageant tyke, but she did grow up around pageants. Her mother, April Simpkins, won the Mrs. North Carolina US title when young Cheslie was in grade school.
In an interview before the pageant, Simpkins says it was during her term as Mrs. North Carolina that young Cheslie, who preferred pulling her hair back and reading books to dressing up and playing with makeup, “realized there’s some power behind pageants.”
In ninth grade, Kryst entered and won her first pageant — Miss Freshman at Rock Hill’s Northwestern High School. When the family moved and she transferred to Fort Mill High School, she won the Miss Fort Mill High School pageant.
As Fort Mill High’s pageant queen, “she blossomed,” April Simpkins told The Charlotte Observer last month.
“Her focus was not on just wearing a crown and a sash,” Simpkins said. “I knew then that she was going to compete for the right reasons. She didn’t need praise and accolades.”
Kryst took some years off pageants while at the University of South Carolina, but got back in the game during law school at Wake Forest University.
She tried a total of four times to win the titles of Miss North Carolina and Miss North Carolina USA (twice in the Miss America system, twice in the Miss USA/Miss Universe system), and although she was in the top 10 all four times, she didn’t bring home the crown until last November, when she won Miss North Carolina USA.
Charlotte celebrates Kryst’s win
Both her law firm, Poyner Spruill in uptown Charlotte, and her high school alma mater were abuzz Friday, as friends, former teachers and colleagues celebrated Kryst’s win.
“She is absolutely who you saw on TV last night,” said Dan Cahill, managing partner of Poyner Spruill.
“When she answered those questions, you can see why, as a law firm, we are so proud to call her a member of our team. I thought she gave deep passionate and thoughtful answers,” Cahill said. “I had chills.”
Kryst’s win that means her uptown Charlotte desk will sit empty for the coming year, as she will move to New York City to serve out her term as Miss USA.
“We’re going to leave her office right where it is, because I hope she’s coming right back” when her Miss USA stint is over next spring, Cahill said.
Attorneys and staff at the four Poyner Spruill offices were in celebration mode even before the pageant. Staff at the firm’s uptown Charlotte office gathered Thursday for a celebration complete with boxes of Insomnia cookies — Kryst’s favorite — and crowns and sashes.
At Fort Mill High School, Principal Gales Scroggs and the staff marveled Friday over the big win for the student they called “CeeCee” — a double-sport athlete who was so admired by other students that she not only won Miss Fort Mill High School and prom queen, but was runner-up for homecoming queen, too.
In January, Kryst returned to Fort Mill High School to judge the school’s pageant, Scroggs said. Before the pageant, she spent the day on campus speaking to students and connecting with teachers she’d had.
”She was as gracious and kind now as she was in high school,” he said.