It’s no secret that our hair is an integral part of our magic. When it comes to our crowns, Black women have always been innovating, elevating and inspiring. Here at ESSENCE, we’ve been proud to be the magazine that has chronicled it all in our pages over the last 50 years. From intricate braids to sleek cuts, sculpted fros to natural curls, we’ve loved to see it.
For our 50th anniversary issue, we paid tribute to Black women’s indomitable swag by recreating some of the greatest looks of each of the last five decades.
Take a journey with us through our #HairStory.
1970s: Hair Chronicles
Historically, wearing cornrows—as Cicely Tyson did in the 1972 Depression-era movie Sounder—has helped us untangle our roots and tell our stories. During this decade the cultural coif was also worn to reject Eurocentric standards of beauty and capture the essence of Black identity.
1980s: Coveted Cuts
In the 1980s, life imitated art. Hip-hop culture influenced everything from fashion to beauty trends, with juicy curls, shaved sides and shags increasing in popularity. Avant-garde asymmetrical bobs, inspired by the rap group Salt-N-Pepa, became the style du jour.
1990s: Braided Bliss
If there’s one hairstyle that was as popular in the 1990s as it is today, it’s box braids. They became a bona fide beauty trend after Janet Jackson debuted the do in the 1993 film Poetic Justice. Styled in high ponytails or with waist-grazing lengths, the iconic coif continues to serve as inspiration for today’s protective styles.
2000s: Smooth Operator
During the 2000s, hairstyles got sleeker, strands got shorter and perms were in high demand. Entertainers such as Missy Elliott and Halle Berry brought trends like polished pixie cuts to the mainstream, and Black women sought permanent hair- straightening treatments as a way to mimic the trendy dos and smooth, textured hair.
2010s: Natural Wonder
The rise of social media during this decade brought a new enthusiasm for natural hair. Platforms such as YouTube and Instagram empowered Black women to return to their roots, by equipping them with tips, tools and tutorials for managing and styling chemical-free hair. This led to a worldwide natural hair movement
In 2019, laws such as the CROWN Act were enacted to “create a respectful and open world for natural hair,” making it possible for women of color to don gravity-defying hairstyles, awe-inspiring Afros and elaborate braids without fear of discrimination. Thanks to unrestricted styling options, the future of Black hair is full of beautiful possibilities.
ESSENCE Beauty 2020:
Chief Content & Creative Officer: @Moanaluu
Beauty Editorial Team: @missjulee @theeshalwahevans @msjenniferford
Creative Operations Director: @inrashidasworld
Creative Director: @nialawrence_nyc
Produced by: @micheleb8