In the last 100 years, Black American history has gone through more than a handful of revolutionary events that have changed how we relate to one another within the community, and how our culture is communicated to the rest of the world. While our culture is so rich as a whole, there is one thing that has been dynamic all on it’s own: our hair. Check out how we’ve represented glamour, entertainment, activism, and growth–all through our hair.
1920s to 1950s: Glamour and Grace
The 1920s to the 1950s was a time where black women were the epitome of style and glamour. Finger waves, spit curls, pin curls, behives, and victory rolls were some of the defining styles of these respective eras.
In 1920, commercial sale of relaxers was relatively new and would be at the forefront of straight, slick, and sleek hairstyles for decades to come. By the 1930s, a black man named Solomon Harper would go on to invent heated hair rollers. And finally, by the 1950s, a black hairstylist by the name of Christina Jenkins submitted a patent for the sew-in weave method.
The Eton Crop and Kiss Curl (Josephine Baker)
The “Eton Crop” was a short bob hairstyle that was named after English schoolboys who wore their hair longer than usual. Then, there were kiss curls: a curl that was pasted down on the forehead using hair lotion, spit, or soap. Legendary entertainer Jospehine Baker integrated both of these styles for her iconic, slicked down pixie style.
Elegant Updo w/ Gardenias (Billie Holiday)
Billie Holiday’s standout look was an updo with one, or a few, gorgeous White Gardenia’s pinned throughout her hair. This signature look was often rumored to be an accident; Billie had burned her hair with curling tongs one night before a show and used a flower from a nearby venue to cover the spot.
Soft Pin Curls (Sheila Guyse)
Curls and waves of all kinds were the highlight of 1940s and 50s hairstyles–even for women with short hair. Actress and recording artist, Sheila Guyse, often wore her hair in short, soft pin curls often and would brush longer curls into a soft wave updos and rolls.
1960s to 1970s: Mavens With A Message
The 1960s and 70s were a time where hair could easily be a representation of what you believed and what group you belonged to, or it could simply be a current trend you wanted to try. On one hand, processed and styled hair was still hugely popular. On the other hand, it was the first time in modern American history that there was a purposeful and political denial of relaxed and straight hair, which would later serve as the springboard for the natural hair movement.
The Flipped Bob (Vonetta McGee)
The flipped bob was all the rage in the 1960s. In fact, it was one of the few hairstyles that was a common choice between black and white women. Although it was a trend of the 60s, women like iconic blaxploitation actress Vonetta McGee, would wear similar styles well into the 70s.
Afro (Angela Davis)
In the mid-1960s and into the 70s, the Civil Rights Movement brought forward multiple “Black is beautiful” initiatives from different social and political groups. The Black Panther Party, for example, seen the afro as an unapologetic embrace of blackness. Activist and academic, Angela Davis, had one of the most recognized and iconic afros of her time.
Fluffed and Feathered (Donna Summer)
Donna Summer was, and still is, hailed as the Queen of Disco. However, her music was not the only thing about her iconic–her hair was, too. Big, glamorous was one of her most popular looks. It eventually went on to be one of the trademark styles of 1970s, as it was also worn by other superstars, like Diana Ross and Chaka Khan.
1980s-1990s: Fashion Forward
Celebrities of the 1980s and 90s were at the center of almost every black hair and fashion trend. Big hair, braids, intricate updos, various styles of bangs, and gaudy hair adornments were all a major key in the quintessential 80s and 90s hairstyles.
Beaded Braids (Patrice Rushen)
Worn by the likes of Stevie Wonder and Rick James, beaded braids was a short-lived style of the late 70s and early 80s. R&B singer Patrice Rushen is known for this iconic look and first debuted it on the cover of her 1979 album, Pizzazz.
Asymmetrical Cut & Shave (Salt-n-Pepa, DJ Spinderella)
Did you know that Salt N Pepa’s famous asymmetrical haircut was an accident? After Pepa’s sister burned part of her hair off during a relaxer-gone-bad, she was forced to shave one side. Thus, the edgy asymmetrical cut was born.
Voluminous Pixie (Halle Berry)
Halle Berry has been somewhat of a champion for the pixie cut. Over the years, it has become her trademark style, but the 90s were a time where she really refined the look. This particular teased pixie style was really popularized by Anita Baker in the 80s, but Halle Berry made the look seem more wearable for younger women in the 90s.
Micro Braids (Brandy)
Microbraids are incredible tiny and delicate braids that are far more flexible in their styling options than other braids. Braids in general have been popular throughout history, but R&B singer Brandy help to popularize the trend in the 1990s after frequently wearing the hairstyle on stage and on her TV show, Moesha.
Early 2000s-200: Anything Goes
The early 2000s marked a time in black hair and fashion when anything was accepted. The beginning of the new millennium embraced the cultural points of the past while striving to move forward with fresh and inventive looks. Truth be told, many people would not repeat the looks of the early 2000s, but it’s a period that shows us how much we’ve grown as far as our individual style is concerned.
In more recent history, Beyonce’s long, one-sided “Lemonade” braids have been reimagined by a multitude of hairstylists and beauty influencers. But back in the early 2000s, she followed a not-so-new trend and rocked different styles and lengths of cornrows in her signature honey blonde hue.
Choppy Layers (Mary J Blige)
Choppy layers with flipped ends was one of the many go-to styles in the early 2000s. Mary J Blige had one of the more creative looks, styling her in various blondes and oranges. Kelly Rowland often wore her hair in similar style during her time in Destiny’s Child.
The Shaved Side (Cassie)
Having one or both sides of your head shaved seemed like one of the longest lasting hair trends of the decade. Singer and actress, Cassie Ventura, started sporting this look in 2009 and stayed with it for the better half of 6 years.
Asymmetrical Bob (Rihanna)
Rihanna debuted her super cute asymmetrical bob in 2007. And despite this being a popular hairstyle decades prior, she helped reintroduce it as a contemporary trend.
Now: Reclaiming Our Time
The Big Chop (Sanaa Lathan)
The big chop is one of the most symbolic hair choices of the decade. It’s not only the start of a natural hair journey, but it also shows how now more than ever, black women are embracing the freedom to be who we want, do what we want, and look how we want.