From fashion designer to weapons specialist to Hill fellow

Congressional Fellow Reginald Bullock, an Air Force officer for more than 20 years, is among the last people you would guess was once a fashion designer. He has the presence of a typical military officer: tough, direct, confident and strictly professional.

Yet he has studied fashion at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and has professionally designed menswear in Saudi Arabia.

Bullock’s interest in fashion design began when he started sewing in elementary school at the encouragement of his mother, who had a strong influence on his life. “I never met my father; my mother had food stamps. We lived in the projects and struggled hard,” Bullock said.

Bullock, 45, used sewing to earn money while attending school. “I [designed] jackets for the Boy Scouts, I did prom gowns. I [made] pretty much all my clothes,” he said. And he did everything, from designing the clothes to buying fabric and then sewing it together using a $50 sewing machine he bought with his own money.

After high school, Bullock attended the Fashion Institute, a premier college for fashion design. “I needed to go somewhere,” said Bullock. “I had that talent.”

To be accepted, Bullock first had to pass an audition. He had an oral examination in which he needed to answer a series of questions, such as the names of prominent fashion magazines, designers in the industry and every pattern he could think of. Then Bullock had to demonstrate his technical ability by drawing three designs on the spot. “They gave me three pieces of paper, and I was told to design one sportswear garment, one formal wear, and one of my choice,” Bullock said.

He abandoned fashion design after graduation because he “needed to eat.” Said Bullock, “I started majoring in fun and excitement, [as] opposed to what I went to school for. So I enlisted [in the Air Force], and became a weapons specialist.”

You would think that people in the Air Force would have given him a hard time for once being a fashion designer, but they were so pleased to have him tailor their military uniforms that it actually helped him. “I tailored my uniforms, so all my clothes fit well. People would ask about it, so I would help people out to get their uniforms to look better or add stripes, and made some money from it,” he said.

Bullock first designed his own line of clothing while attending the Fashion Institute, but couldn’t get any of his designs into stores. His chance to do just that would come later, while he was in Saudi Arabia training that nation’s Royal Air Force for a private contractor, McDonnell Douglas (now merged with Boeing). The shops in the area didn’t know how to make clothes for Americans. Clothes for locals, he explained, were of such low quality that they wouldn’t meet American standards. Bullock taught Saudi clothiers how to better fit and produce clothes for Americans, and “came to an agreement.”

If you asked Bullock to design a piece of men’s clothing for you today, he might say yes, but don’t count on it. Said Bullock, “I get a call occasionally from people who knew me, and I’ll help them out sometimes if it’s something I’m interested in.” For now, though, he’s much more content working for Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), and is looking forward to rejoining the Air Force when his fellowship ends in December.