The History of Black Hair Styles

The movement of natural hair, black hair, afro hair or whatever you want to call it, started from incredibly tough circumstances.

But somewhere around the beginning of the new millennium, black women started to reacquaint themselves with their natural hair — big time. And now more than a decade later, numerous websites, bloggers and homegrown hair product companies have emerged, and women with curly, kinky, coily hair types fallen in love with their own special brand of natural beauty.

Despite the ongoing debate about how many of us choose to wear our natural locks, the movement has done a lot for sisterhood in a very positive way.

Black is, indeed, beautiful. As a proud Afro-Caribbean woman, I invite you to view a few top pivotal moments in black hairstyle history, to see how gorgeous our locks are and how much history we hold above our heads, in our hair. To keep it short for you, I stayed within the 1900’s :-)

1914 - Madam CJ Walker creates the first line of black hair care products:

Combining both beauty sensibility and business savvy, Madam CJ Walker (aka Sarah Breedlove) built a wildly successful hair empire around the innovation of the pressing comb. She also created the first relaxer which changed the black hair game forever.  Ambitious, driven, and dedicated to her company, Madam CJ Walker became the first female self-made millionaire in the United States.

1927 - Josephine Baker solidifies the spit curl

Legendary entertainer Josephine Baker’s flapper-chic spit curls set the black hair standard during the Roaring Twenties. Also known as “kiss-curls” this style is created by the hair curling onto the face - usually plastered down. Since the flapper era of the 1920s, the spit or kiss curl style became a unique beauty and fashion staple for women of all colors.

1961 - The Supremes make wig-wearing the new black girl trend

Diana Ross, Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard of the iconic Supremes helped make big wigs the fancy do of choice for teenagers of all races everywhere. This high, puffy straight style wig became the sought after look for many black women who were looking to cover up their hair.

1964 - Cicely Tyson becomes the first black celebrity to rocks cornrows on TV

African-American actress Cicely Tyson was the very first celebrity to bring cornrows to the mainstream, setting off the trend amongst black women across America. But it wasn’t until Bo Derek rocked the style in red swimsuit in the movie “10” that is got worldwide attention, becoming the vacation hairstyle of choice for generations of sun-burned caucasian women. Many say Bo Derek did for cornrows what Kim Kardashian did for the booty.

1972 - Pam Grier solidifies the big sexy afro trend in the seventies

Actress Pam Grier made a name for herself in the seventies with her big afro and her iconic roles in blackplotation films like Foxxy Brown and The Big Bird Cage. Her big afro style was followed by many other black entertainers in the 70’s, including Chaka Khan.

1977 - Donna Summer makes roller-set curls the trend

Donna Summer aka the Queen of Disco’s hair was Studio 54 fabulous at all times. She made roller-set curls and tons of volume the it thing to do in black hair. At this point in time, the afro look started to fade out and perms, relaxers and straightening your hair was back in style again.

1980 - Grace Jones shows off her flat-top fade

Grace Jones never followed the standard black hair rules in her era, and it showed when she sported a high top fade on her album, “Warm Leatherette”. This look was very controversial for women to wear at the time, but Grace Jones started the trend of black women being comfortable wearing shorter hair styles.

1981 - Patrice Rushen sets the micro-braid trend

The “Forget Me Nots” singer Patrice Rushen became one of the era’s top tress trendsetters when she rocked her micro-braids with multi-colored beads in her music videos and interviews. This style became super popular with black teens and children, creating a common hair trend we still use on kids today.

1984 - Tina Turner makes black blonde hair a thing

Tina Turner’s blonde, crimped hair is just as iconic as her hit song, “What’s Love Got To Do With It”. Her look quickly became an 80’s staple and causing many black women to go blonde - something that was held acceptable only for white women. This color trend stuck around and has continued to be embraced by the black community and rocked by many stars, including Beyonce who credits Tina Turner for inspiring her blonde locks.

1992 - Halle Berry makes short hair sexy

Halle Berry’s cropped hairstyle was one of the most requested chops of the 90’s. This fly pixie style quickly became her signature look which she maintains to this day. The “Halle Berry Cut” was super popular with Hollywood actress as well as their fans. Other celebs that went short after Berry include Toni Braxton, Anita Baker and Jada Pinkett.

1999 - Lauryn Hill’s lovely locks become popular

Multi-platinum artist Lauryn Hill changed the idea that dreadlocks are just for Rasta men, showing girls that women can rock them too! Her shoulder length locs became iconic overnight, causing many young girls in the early 2000’s (myself included) to want dreadlocks or a faux version of the style.


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