Black Hair: Then, Now & Beyond

For as far back as time can tell, Black hair has long had the power to set trends and reflect societal attitudes. With comedian Chris Rock's "Good Hair" generating a worldwide hair discussion, it’s the perfect time to remember important people and events that shaped the trends and hairstyles of African-American women. Hairstyles have been interwoven into that history and we look at how it continues to evolve.
ESSENCE.COM Feb, 26, 2009

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Black hair has always had the power to set trends and reflect societal attitudes. Here, we look back on the people and events that helped influence our tress trends!

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For as far back as time can tell, Black hair has long had the power to set trends and reflect societal attitudes. With comedian Chris Rock’s “Good Hair” generating a nationwide discussion on Black women and their hair, it’s the perfect time to remember important people and events that shaped the trends and hairstyles of African-American women—from then, now and beyond.

3 of 34 Illustrated London News and Sketch Ltd., 1842

Europeans trade on the West Coast of Africa, with people wearing elaborate hairstyles, including braids, twists and intricate headdresses.

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The first African slaves are brought to Jamestown, Virginia. While many grooming traditions were lost, slaves fought to keep their identity and personal style alive.

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Regarded as the first permanent USA English settlement, Jamestown, Virginia’s first African slaves quickly adopt new habits for grooming, hairstyles and dress.

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Without the combs and herbal treatments used in Africa, slaves rely on bacon grease, butter and kerosene as hair conditioners and cleaners.

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Madame C.J. Walker (the first Black self-made millionairess) develops a range of Black hair products, and popularizes the press-and-curl style.

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Singer Billie Holiday becomes a beauty icon with her trademark white gardenia often worn in the right side of her hair.

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George E. Johnson launches the Ultra Wave Hair Culture, a “permanent” hair straightener for men; a women’s relaxer follows. The “conk” hairstyle becomes quite popular among Black men.

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George E. Johnson launches the Ultra Wave Hair Culture, a “permanent” hair straightener for men; a women’s relaxer follows. The “conk” hairstyle becomes quite popular among Black men.

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Cicely Tyson makes history when she wears cornrows on the television drama “East Side/West Side.” In 1979, braids cross the color line when actress Bo Derek sports cornrows in the movie “10.”

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Women of color find a new ideal of beauty when actress Diahann Carroll becomes the first African-American actress to star in her own television series, “Julia,” in 1968.

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Diahann Carroll becomes the first Black actress to star in her own television series, “Julia,” in 1968. Carroll helped popularize this elegant bouffant during the show’s 86-episodes run.

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Angela Davis becomes an icon of Black Power with her larger-than-life Afro. Also in 1970, ESSENCE magazine launches. The groundbreaking women’s publication celebrates Black beauty like never before.

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A leading leading lady in action films, actress Pam Grier makes a fashion statement with her fluffy, ultra-stylish ’fro.

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The cult motion picture “Mahogany” is released! Sisters watch in awe as Diana Ross switches hairdos as often as she changes clothes. Ms. Ross helped pave the way for future pop divas like Beyoncé.

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Model and actress Grace Jones sports her trademark flat-top fade, which she displayed on the cover of her first non-disco album, 1980’s “Warm Leatherette.”

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The Jheri Curl explodes on the Black hair scene, thanks to Michael Jackson. Billed as a curly perm for Blacks, the ultra-moist hairstyle lasts through the decade.

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Hip-hop trio Salt-N-Pepa bust on the male-dominated rap scene with showstopping asymmetrical honey-hued haircuts that young women mimicked from Harlem to Hollywood.

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Media mogul Oprah Winfrey sports a short shag to the 43rd Annual Golden Globe Awards. It was all about volume for the soon-to-be international icon.

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Spike Lee exposes the good hair/bad hair schism in Black America in his movie “School Daze.”

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The weave, first made popular to the masses by stars like Jody Watley and Whitney Houston, becomes the rage for many Black women.

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The “Halle Berry Cut” becomes a familiar request to Black hairstylists across the country. Berry’s cropped style was her signature look for many years to come.

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Singer Erykah Badu poses on the cover of her debut album “Baduizm” with her head wrapped, ushering in an eclectic brand of Afrocentrism.

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People magazine names lock-topped Grammy Award-winning artist Lauryn Hill one of its 50 Most Beautiful People.

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Macy Gray sports a new-school Afro, while rapper Lil’ Kim wears a platinum blonde weave. Some Black women perm, some press, and others, like Alicia Keys, rock natural braids.

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The Baltimore Police Department prohibits cornrows, dreadlocks and twists to be worn by staffers. The styles are considered “extreme” and a “fad."

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In 2006, Black hair care becomes a billion dollar industry, thanks to brands like Dark & Lovely and Soft Sheen Carson.

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On the road to the White House, Michelle Obama instantly becomes an icon for her fashion sense and gorgeous tresses. Hair salons everywhere start getting requests for the “Obama Blowout.”

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Buzzed hairstyles seem to be all the rage for up-and-coming Hollywood starlets. From Rihanna’s fauxhawk to Cassie shaved sides, edgy cuts keep these hair hoppers in the spotlight.

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Singer/actress/DJ Solange Knowles rocks out in adorable, coily twists. When she shed her extensions and embraced her natural hair, Beyonce’s little sis became a style icon in her own right!

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Rihanna starts a red revolution with her crimson-tinted tresses. Here, she goes for retro glam in this pin-up girl inspired ’do. We love the cool rolls in front!

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From megastar Rihanna to rising songstress Janelle Monae, Black women are continuing to set hair trends, and the world is still taking note.

Tell us, where is our hair going in terms of styles and trends?

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At only 9 years old, pint-sized triple threat Willow Smith has inspired a nation to whip their hair back and forth! We can’t wait to see the styles this tress trendsetter comes up with next.

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