That '80s Hair

March 16, 2014

Oh, the eighties.  I often look back and just shake my head slowly for the many fashion and hair atrocities that took place during this era.  Many have tried to make a comeback, but the overall consensus is that we just want this time in history to fade away.  LOL  But seriously – this was a time of transition for black hair, and you see the tides turning the trends to that of flipped imitation.  Now whites wanted to imitate the stylish and very popular styles of blacks in music and radio, and having black hair styled in the many ways it could be was far more interesting than the straighter strands of their white counterparts.

A Plethora of Hairstyles from the 80’s and into the 90’s

’80s hair and fashion was all about expression and became a confusing mix of styles and colors.  Cornrows along with adorning beads became a very popular hair style for White women after being worn by Bo Derek, and were seen as exceptionally beautiful look for White women by White culture. However, much of the Black community was disgusted that cornrows, a style that had been worn by Blacks women for centuries, was only deemed beautiful when worn by White women.  An interest in style was the driving force behind White culture imitating Black hairstyles. An interest in style was a part of Black culture imitating White hair styles, but it was also a method to gain acceptance and employment.

Cicley Tyson 1963 East Side West Side       Bo Derek 1979 "10"

Employers began laying off Black women who wore cornrows and braids to work, including lawyers, flight attendants and teachers.  Large numbers of Black women began suing their prior employers and going to news stations because of discrimination against their hairstyles.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission made rules to protect employees wearing cornrows, stating that they were to be accepted as expressions of heritage.

article:  The ‘8os and Dress Codes

The curly perm, or Jheri Curl, became a popular style for all ages and was affordable for all budgets. It was marketed as low-maintenance style versatility.  Suspicion flared that Michael Jackson’s hair caught fire as a result of Jheri Curl Juice. This was the beginning of jokes about the vastly popular Jheri Curl style.  Not only were Jheri Curls becoming messy, they were also getting expensive and high maintenance because of the number of products needed to maintain them.  The Jheri Curl, a style that swept the Black population in popularity, was dismissed as a shameful laughable style, and considered by some as a denial of ones’ Blackness.

jherri curl

As hip hop emerged, so did the fade. Men shaved their hair such that it was increasingly longer on the top. Some wore high-top fades, like Kid n’ Play, and some cut designs and names into the lower-cut areas of their hair.
Fades were mostly seen as urban, thug-like hairstyles. But some viewed them as a way of showing Black pride.

hi-top and fade
New trends for Black women were now springing from urban Black areas. Styles done on relaxed hair, such as wedges and finger waves, made a bold visual distinction between lower, middle, and upperclass Black communities. Middle and upperclass Black individuals continued wearing the same classic relaxed hair styles.  For the first time since slavery, dreadlocks were worn, mostly by individuals who adopted Rastafarianism to show Black pride and in obedience to Biblical scriptures that discuss not cutting the hair. However, most saw dreadlocks and members of MOVE, a naturalistic grouping of people, as overly bold, violent, and filthy.  Eventually, the fear of dreadlocks dissipated and familiar Hollywood stars began wearing them, such as Whoopi Goldberg, and Lisa Bonet from the Cosby Show.

women's hair 80s

Even still, there is a divide in the black community between light-skinned and dark-skinned, good hair and bad hair.  Lighter women and men are still given better roles in movies and television shows, and darker-skinned blacks are stereotyped and made fun of in shows like Martin.  In 1988, Spike Lee exposes the good hair/bad hair light-skinned/dark-skinned schism in black America in his movie “School Daze.”


For all of the diversified hair styles and fashion, that old ideal still hangs over the black community – perpetuated not by whites, but by blacks against other blacks.

Will the ’90s change that?  Find out next.

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