From the short flapper haircuts of the 1920s, to the iconic fros of the Black Panther movement, to the natural hair we rock today. Black hair has changed with each decade, bringing with it a new set of trendy styles, responses to political and social climates, and discussions around beauty. Let’s take a look at the trajectory of our hair from the early 20th century to now – b ecause our hair is beautiful and tells our story. Right now, if you purchase our #DEARBLACKGIRL kit along with our Onion & Garlic Thickening Ayurvedic Herb Hair Oil, we’ll donate 15% of the profits towards building other black businesses across the country that have been hit hard during this time. For us, putting the black dollar back into our community is essential, and we’re proud to be making the commitment to do so.
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In west Africa, hair had many roles. It was a status symbol, a communication tool, adornment and many other things. The significance of hair was major to say the least. Some could argue that our love of our hair as black women comes from West Africa and its traditions. Hair was was also used as a way to share messages between groups. For example, the Wolof young women of Senegal would shave parts of their hair to show that they were not seeking romantic partnership. Having hair that was thick, neat and healthy was considered a sign of beauty in West African communities. It served as a sign that she would have many healthy children, bountiful land and prosperity. It wasn’t all about length though, it was also about how the hair was maintained, kept neat, clean and tidy through the use of cornrows, braids and other styles. Many of the hairstyles we still rock today come from West Africa such as cornrows and Fulani braids.
The relaxer was invented in 1909 by an African American man called Garrett Augustus Morgan, who actually created it by accident. He was trying to find a solution to ease the friction of sewing machines, as he owned a tailor shop, but instead created a cream that straightened hair. He tested it on a neighbour’s dog fur and it worked. Shortly after he set up G.A. Morgan Hair Refining Company and began selling relaxer to African American women.
The short flapper style was all the rage for most women, regardless of race, in the 1920s, and many black women participated in the hairstyle by cutting and hot-combing their hair to achieve the short bob look that’s now synonymous with the ‘roaring 20s’. Products by the likes of Madame C J Walker, the first female self-made millionaire in America, who also happened to be a black woman, helped black women achieve the look. The main styles in the 1930s didn’t differ too much from the previous decade, although they wore their hair longer and included curls and finger waves, usually chin length.
Black hair in the 1040s was deeply inspired by Hollywood glamour. They achieved their updos and waves with the use of rollers which were becoming very popular at the time. The croquignole curl was especially trendy at the time. It’s a method of curling the hair by using metal rods, starting at the root of the hair towards the scalp.The 50s were a bit more glamorous, with updos and coiffures worn by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald. Updos with beautiful swoops, and pinned curls were extremely popular. The 50s was also the beginning of weaves and hair extensions as we know them today. They were invented by Christina Jenkinswho created and patented the process in 1951. Women would add tracks to their updos and hairstyles to add length and volume.
This was the beginning of African American women wearing their hair as it grows from our heads. Black nationalism was taking off in the 60s, and the civil rights movement was at its peak making black women proud to begin rocking their afros. They wore their fros relatively short, and many began to steer away from straighter styles, although on the other end of the spectrum, many black women were rocking wigs that were angular and contained swoops, such as the style donned by the Dream Girls The 70s! This was the disco era, the time of big fros and sparkly jewelry. The larger the fro, the closer to God it seemed! Afros were a fashion choice at the time, but as you’ll read in the next section, they became a political one.
We can’t talk about hair in this era without mentioning the Black Panthers! Although the Black panther started in 1966, they rose to prominence in the 1970s. They rocked their afros loudly and proudly, but not as a fashion statement. It was a powerful political one that showed pride in being black. “Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud!” Activists and revolutionaries like Angela Davis and Huey P Newton were very much at the forefront of this. The afro comb also became a powerful symbol that stood for pride in being African American.
The hairstyles rocked in the 80s were curly, as opposed to the thick, kinky textures that were favoured in the previous decade. Think loose jerry curls such as the style sported by the linkes of Whitney Houston in the ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’ video. In the 80s however, groups such as Salt-N-Pepa pioneered a new trend of hairstyles that featured angular, asymmetrical cuts often featuring bright colours.
Braids, braids, braids. Janet in Poetic Justice. Brandy in Moesha. Jada in Set it Off. The 90s kicked off our love affair with braids and really fuelled the love and versatility we have with our braids today. Braids are a staple in most black women’s routine, and they are one of the most popular go-to protective styles. Long, short, blonde, black, twists, you name it, we’ve tried it.
One of the great things about being a black woman now is the versatility we now have with our hair. Lace front wigs, braids, weaves, and natural hair. We can rock our hair in so many ways, and there’s not one set trend. The natural hair movement gained momentum in the early 2010s with the rise of Youtube and social media platforms that gave us the opportunity to talk openly about our hair, and move away from relaxers and perms, and embrace our strands as they naturally grew out of our scalps. Styles like two strand twists, wash and go’s, and methods such as the LCO and LOC became key methods, terms and knowledge for the natural hair community. At the same time, on the other end of the spectrum, weaves and wigs became more advanced and seamless, and lace front wigs and full lace wigs became mainstream and accessible to the general public, unlike before where they were brutally expensive and could only be afforded by a select few. The great thing about our hair now is that we can wear it however we want it to be, and it’s a source of power and a way to define ourselves.
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