How has the hair and hairstyles of black men evolved from slavery to our current day? (PART 2)
Please be aware that this is Part 2 of my post on the evolution of black men’s hair and hairstyles in the United States.
Black men hairstyles during the early 20th century
As blacks were slowly integrated into mainstream society (although still regarded as second class citizens), black men started emulating the hairstyles of the white men in an effort to improve their (blacks’) social status. The hair relaxer, a chemical product that straightened hair, was used by many black men so as to keep their kinks softer and be able to comb the hair, a feat that with naturally kinky curly hair is impossible as this hair type will remain upright regardless of how much manipulation to the hair is performed. From my research, the mere act of combing their hair and getting some slick to the hair (after relaxing it) helped black men earn a higher degree of respect from white men.
This hair styling phenomenon of black men relaxing and combing their hair continued until the early 1960s, and hair relaxing would then regain its popularity again in the 1980s.
Black men and their hair during the Civil Rights movement
It was only until the early 1960s when the Civil Right movement was started that African Americans were socially free to express their kinky curly hair as they wished to. Because kinky curly hair stands upright even at hair lengths of one foot, the afro hairstyle was chosen as the styling insignia of African American men to showcase their self pride and self embracing. By the early 1970s, it is estimated that over 2/3 of black men had an afro hairstyle in the United States of America as the Civil Rights movement coincided with the hippie era which too encouraged long hair so as to defy the establishment.
The 1970s was the decade of big hair, meaning that the afro hairstyle became the most popular hairstyle among black men and women in the United States. Unlike the very short hairstyles and haircuts black men had to endure only a couple of decades earlier, black men were now free to choose their hair styling and most of them swung to the other extreme of men’s hairstyles: choosing hairstyles that were big in nature and somewhat menacing and defying. A great site to study the natural afro hairstyles of black men is Manly Curls (www.manlycurls.com), a website by a fellow hair blogger (Rogelio Samson) who too has an interest in the evolution of men’s hairstyles and haircuts, particularly of curly hair. At Manly Curls, Rogelio goes on to explain the uses of kinky curly hair and how to particularly style black men’s hair, it certainly is a site worth the visit for any men with curly hair.
The 1980s, black men start relaxing their hair again and shaping their kinks
The 1980s was a decade for black men to experiment with their hair. The messy afro hairstyle was dropped in favor of sharp haircuts whereby the kinky curly hair was clipped and trimmed following squarish patterns. Haircuts such as the high top fade haircut became very popular among urban black men and it was also very easy to transition from an afro hairstyle to a high top fade haircut so black men didn’t just cut their afro hairstyles and start growing their curls into a high top fade, instead they’d simply visit a barber and have their afro trimmed down to a high top fade. Likewise the use by black men of hair clippers for fade haircuts done at home skyrocketed as many men learned how to use a hair clipper to shape their hairstyles including doing technical fade haircuts and high top and flat top haircuts which a decade before could only be done by barbers who mastered the skill of using a hair clipper.
Another hairstyle of the 80s was “hair relaxing” which became popular again during the 1980s, although the form of hair relaxing in this decade conferred a less harsh treating of the hair to relax it. Black men would just mildly soften their kinks with the relaxer so that instead of having tight and tiny coils as per their naturally curly hair, they’d end up with big coils of hair or wavy patterned hair. This hairstyle became known as the Jheri curl but it dropped out of sight by the time the 90s started.
The 1990s and beyond, an era for black men to design their hair
As the years continued to go by, the disposable income of black men continued to grow. By the 1990s, black men could afford frequent visits to the barbershop to trim their hairstyles and many ventured into owning their own haircut kits at home too. In the 1990s, the technology for hair clippers improved dramatically and the cost for a hair clipper was inversely correlated to the increase in technology used to manufacture hair clippers in vast amounts.
Because of the factors explained in the above paragraph, black men started becoming ever-so creative with their hairstyles. The trend since the 1990s has been to create designs on the scalp made from trimming and clipping the hair in a skilful manner. Black barbershops became epicenters of urban creativity as well as social hubspots, and the new door of hairstyles that were opened to black males in the 90s boosted their self confidence and pride. Their hair was now a style statement and a personal statement that run on the basis of being more and more creative, going back to the creative men’s hairstyles basis for kinky curly hair that African tribesmen used many centuries before.