100 years of black hair
Hairstyles

Hair Evolution: 100 Years of Black Women and Hair

The Journey of Black Hair

Black women have had the most creative styles over the years.

We have influenced cultures and fashion all over the world. From box braids to Bantu knots with our curls, we can pull anything off! Black hair is fantastic because we can pull off any hairstyle.

I’m going to dive right in and share the best hairstyles for every decade and cheers to many more!

The 1910s

Many black women during this period had very sophisticated styles. They usually just wore their hair natural but in a pulled back style. Hairstyles were very simple and did not have much going on, a significant change from today.

madame-cj-walker

The 1920s

In the 1920s black women had a few trendy styles. The 1920s was a decade of cultural rebellion when it came to women. Many women went against social norms and completely changed their looks. Black women all over America wore short flapper-esque haircuts.

“Flapper-esque” means that they were rocking short hairstyles. Many black women had straight hairstyles. Some of the more common styles include:

Marcel waves

The Marcel Wave, or Marcelle, is a stylish wave achieved by a special type of heated curling irons.

Named for Francois Marcel, 19th-century French hairdresser who invented the process in 1872. It revolutionized the art of hairdressing all over the world and remained in fashion for over fifty years, making a fortune for Mr. Marcel.

Originally known as the “Undulation Marcel,” the name evolved to the “Marcel Wave.”

Short bob cuts

This was another fashionable look. It was usually a straight bob cut close to the ears. Many black women would style this look with short bangs.

Finger waves

Finger waves look much like Marcel waves except they are created using your fingers instead of a heating tool. But form the same fantastic effect. On wet hair, apply any gel or any styling products, and then hair is combed into ridges and curves with the use of the fingers.

finger waves

The 1930s

In 1930’s women went back to a more feminine look, getting away from the boyish line of choices in 1920’s due to rebellion.

Deep waves emerged with fashionable hats. One of the most famous styles of this era was the turban which allowed the wearer to bundle away the hair, while still looking well groomed and elegant. Finger waves were still in fashion. More popular hairstyles in 1930’s include:

josephine baker hair

Brush curling

The curls of this hairstyle form by winding the hair strands in overlapping curls through the use of a brush then the pins will hold it in place. Black women started wearing their hair more naturally and adding a little wave to it through the use of this technique.

Water wave

The curls form by placing comb in an upward direction on the wet hair with styling gel and once its dry, the comb will be removed. This technique also creates a finger wave effect.

Windblown

Your hair is combed flat, and the waves have heart shapes. This style went well with shorter hair with longer pieces curled around the forehead.

josephine baker hair

The 1940s

1940s black hairstyles had elegance, sophistication and a whole lot of class.

During this period America was becoming more refined as a social community and country. People were becoming more interested in style and aesthetics, as opposed to the much more utilitarian philosophies of the previous generation. Soft curls and updos were becoming more common.

As such, you could frequently find rollers in the bathrooms of many homes during the period. These curls are slightly different than those that are more common today because women of the time were supposed to wear hats in public. Because of this, the ends of locks were usually all that curled with the roots left sleek and straight so that the hair could sit underneath hats.

Here are a few trendy styles:

Croquignole curl

This is a method of waving the hair by curling it around metal rods from the ends inward toward the scalp. They were very tight curls usually worn by black women with shorter hair.

Omelet

This uses a technique where the hair parts at the back and a hairdresser or stylist uses a criss-cross effect to create folds that are in a forward direction.

If your hair needed treatment, then, you would also have to wear a Du-Rag to keep the hair in place so the treatment can do its job. However, Du-rags were not only used in this way, as they were popular among both men and women who were trying to style their hair in a way that needed a little extra help staying in place.

Chignon

The Chignon was one of the most popular hairstyles of the time.

The front of the hair was slicked back while a knot pinned to the base of the neck is the most notable characteristic of this hairstyle. Pin curls and ringlet curls were also typical and presented in a very similar way as the Chignon.

Pin curls are isolated, pinning small portions of the hair to create a soft, elegant, feminine look. Ringlet curls were used to fasten a larger quantity of hair.

chignon hairstyle

The 1950s

Many styles of the 1940s were still trendy in the 50s. Wigs started to become popular during this time. Short, straight hair wigs were common among black women. There are a few styles however that emerged:

The pompadour bang

This was a style in which women would have a bang that was bumped up in front of their hair and do their hair in any way they like in the back. Usually, women would separate their hair with a scarf adding a little fashion to the style.

The beehive

The beehive is a woman’s hairstyle in which long hair is piled up in a conical shape on the top of the head and slightly backward pointing, giving some resemblance to the form of a traditional beehive. It was very popular among African American women in professional settings.

Ronettes-Beehives

The 1960s

Natural hair became a movement in the ’60s.

The Civil Rights movement was morphing into the Black Power movement for many, that meant accepting “a new, Black-identified visual aesthetic, an aesthetic that not only incorporated an alternative to straight hair but celebrated it.”

Ingrid Banks, Associate Professor of Black Studies at University of California Santa Barbara stated: “the pressing comb and chemical relaxers became oppressive because they were tools that symbolized the shame associated with black hair in its natural state.” In other words, it was looked down upon to change your hair to fit European standards.

Many women started wearing their hair naturally usually combing the hair into an afro if it didn’t naturally sit that way. Afros were important because the afros of activist groups such as the black panthers became an inspiring symbol of rebellion.

The afro wasn’t just a hairstyle, but it represented an entire movement.

nina simone natural hair

The 1970s

Afros started to become more of a fashion choice. Famous people such as Diana Ross and Pam Grier rocked huge afros as a form of style.

Some other popular styles are:

Cornrows

A game changer in the early 70s was Cicely Tyson who was famous for her role in the tv series roots at the time.

On a cover of Jet Magazine, she rocked a traditional African style of cornrows that had a round pattern on her head. From that time, Cornrow “updos” made from curved and swirling flat braid designs were popular in the 1970s. Some styles included beaded accents to the cornrows.

African American hair stylists inspired by continental African designs of the era made these techniques famous in big cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Also, renowned singer Roberta Flack was another person who rocked cornrows.

Cleopatra braids

Cleopatra braids were eccentric and daring. Singers including Peaches from the pop duo, Peaches and Herb, and Donna Summer wore long braids with Cleopatra fringe bangs. Braid decorations include generous amounts of gold, silver, crystal or multicolored beads.

Afro Puffs

To make Afro puffs, women brushed their hair to the center of their heads and secured it in place with a cord or a comb. Some younger women also wore their hair parted down the middle and parted it on either side to make two Afro puffs.

Women enjoyed making their puffs as big as possible as it was a trend to have big hair at the time.

1970s afro puff natural hair
diana ross afro wig

The 1980s

Afros became unpopular in the 80s. People still wore them, but they were not as popular as in the 60s and 70s. A few new styles emerged:

Jheri curls

Men and women alike rocked this style. It is a permed hairstyle invented by the hairdresser Jheri Redding.

The Jheri curl made hair a glossy, loosely curled look. It was a “wash and wear” style that was easier to care for than the other popular chemical treatment of the day, the relaxer. Many celebrities wore Jheri Curls including, most famously, Michael Jackson.

The hair set on rod rollers and chemicals are applied. To get the great Jheri curl look, you must use a curl activator, a solution designed to keep the hair moist.

jerry curl 1980s

Asymmetrical haircut

Inspired by the famous rap group Salt β€˜n’ Pepa, having short hair with one side longer than the other became a trendy look in the 80s.

These cuts ranged from slightly asymmetrical styles to styles where one side of the hair was dramatically shorter than the other. In some cases, one side of the hair was cut close to the scalp, sometimes with lines in it, and the other side was left long.

These styles were usually curled either under in an asymmetrical bob or flipped upward.

salt n pepa 1990s hair

The 1990s

As many of these styles remain popular today, the 90s inspired so much of fashion that we see in African American culture today. Many of these styles women rock today.

Box Braids

Made famous by Janet Jackson in her movie role Poetic Justice, box braids became a trend by black women everywhere. This look was long thick braids that can create several different looks. Some of the examples of that include, a bun, a high ponytail and a half up and half down look.

janet jackson hair poetic justice braids

Short cropped hair

This was also a trendy style that could be worn as a wig or with natural hair. Many women famous for this style during this period are Halle Berry, Nia Long, and Toni Braxton.

Micro braids

Micro braids are the small version of box braids. Brandy Norwood popularized the style on the hit ’90s show Moesha. These were usually worn shorter than box braids, either as a bob or mid back.

Baby hair

The baby hair trend started way back when! We all know the routine, lay those edges down with a little water, an old toothbrush, some gel or maybe even some Vaseline. During this time exaggerated baby hairs were very popular.

Relaxer

This was a trendy look seen all throughout our beloved movies such as Love and Basketball. To get that smooth, straight look, young girls and grown women would use hot combs and flat irons along with relaxers to get their hair slick down.

A lot of other trends was to do half up half down hairstyles, two ponytails and the rest down and different unique styles.

relaxed pxie cut

The 2000s

Aaliyah Bangs

Aaliyah has inspired many looks, and during this time a look that many women wanted was the signature Aaliyah bangs. The look is a long side bang going over the side of the face. This hairstyle is most familiar with shoulder length or longer hair because that’s how Aaliyah always did it!

aaliyah hair

A bandana over the head

This style was everywhere. It was merely putting a stylish bandana on top of your head to complete your look, and you were ready to go!

Short bob with flipped out ends

Whether it was a wig or your real hair, this was a typical style among black women. It was usually a bob that stopped right before the neck with the ends curled outwards.

detsinys child hair

Patterned cornrows

As seen on women such as Alicia keys, Cornrows were very popular in the early 2000s. Many women would personalize their cornrows and add zig-zag patterns or do other interesting things.

alicia keys cornrow braids

Spiky short hair

This style was typical among women with really short hair, but there were also wig versions of the style. The method is simple, using gel or some curling iron, women would purposefully make their hair spike up. They could either be dramatic and very spiky or subtle.

purple short hair cut

The 2010s

The era we live in today, there are several hairstyles that black women have been trying and slaying. Here are some of the most popular ones.

Natural hair

Many black women have put away the perms and heating tools and have transitioned their hair back to its natural state. There are several cute styles women do to their natural hair whether its puffs, Bantu knots, a high puff, or something as simple as a wash n go.

natural with bangs

Fulani braids

These are a type of cornrow braiding pattern inspired by the Fulani people primarily located in West Africa. There are several beautiful patterns to choose from, usually accessorized with cuffs or beads.

Beyonce Lemonade Braids

Lace frontal wigs

No one is sure when lace frontal wigs became so popular and looked so natural, but I think they’re here to stay! There are several colors, styles, and lengths to choose from and the great thing about them is that if installed correctly, they look very natural. Just add a few baby hairs, and you’re good to go.

frontal
frontal styled

Crochet braids

Crochet braiding is a way of adding extensions to your hair.

As with a weave, the basis of the method is first cornrowing your hair then apply the extensions to the cornrows. Unlike a weave, however, the hair used is loose and not on a weft. And instead of being sewn in, crochet hair is looped under the cornrows with a crochet needle and secured with a knot of sorts.

The great thing about crochet is that you can do any style. From twists to braids to curly hair the options are endless.

ombre blue crochet braids protective style

Faux locs

Faux locs are meant to resemble dreadlocks.

This style is often created using human hair, yarn, or synthetic braiding hair such as Marley hair or Kanekalon hair. Many women have done this style using all types of colors, lengths, and jewels to accessorize. A few famous people that have worn this style are Rihanna and Meagan Good.

coachella faux locs dreads hair jewelry

What decade has your favorite styles?

Black women have come a long way when it comes to style and hair.

There are many vintage styles incorporated into hairstyles we wear today. Black hair has such an impact on society not only black women but on many other races and cultures today. It is interesting to see old styles come back into fashion in full force.

You have seen 100 years of a few of the most popular styles in black history, which is your favorite? And which one are you going to rock next? Comment down below!

About Maira Tarawallie

I am a student at the Ohio State University. International relations major and aspiring MUA. I love anything that has to do with hair and beauty!

2 thoughts on “Hair Evolution: 100 Years of Black Women and Hair

  1. Toni Hammond says:

    I personally always wished I was around for the 70’s stage with the Afro and the platform shoes and bell bottom pants 😍 I was born in the 80’s so when I started doing my hair for style as a teenager I was into the spice girl thang, so technically I was able to catch the comeback of the 70’ clothes style. My hair was relaxed and always in a ponytail with those clip in butterflies lol I remember getting the ones that had the big wings that bounced as I walked. I do wish the full Afro was back in style, I think I would rock it well!

  2. Tiffany Hall says:

    It’s so cool to see how the hairstyles look back then and how even today they resemble with a twist, I love seeing how history keeps repeating itself like how in the 70’s it was all about being natural embracing African American natural styles and yet today 40 years later African American women are embracing the same pride just beautiful!

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