Varied Style: the '90s Hair

March 16, 2014

The ’80s were finally over, and with it exited some of the crazy fashions and hairstyles.  Things toned down a bit, and black hair settled back into its familiar straight and sleek comfort zone.  There was still the thought that relaxed hair was more professional and accepted; and then it happened…

And then the ’90s

Weaves, which had been worn by a few since colonial times, were worn in abundance by Black Hollywood stars, supposedly as a method to protect the hair from overstyling for the camera.  Weaves and braid extensions became exceedingly popular to Black women, and visually intriguing for some men. But the idea of a woman wearing weaves and braid extensions was seen as an insecurity, as fake, and was scorned by many men.

Nonetheless, women were opting for straight – and the straighter, the longer, the silkier the better.   Styles came and went and the next 10 years would see many styles – short, long, curly, straight, braided, loc’ed, black, blonde, you name it it was worn.  Any style worn by an artist or actress/actor was then imitated by their fans:

styles of the eighties

The relaxer was at an all time high, and salons were often booked with women scheduling time to have their hair chemically straightened.  And the younger the better – mothers even scheduled a stylists’ chair next to theirs for their daughters to have their hair relaxed, as well.  Television ads were still selling straighter longer hair for happiness and success; and now they were targeting the little girls who wanted straight hair like mommy’s.  The selling point?  No-lye, milder and gentler alternative.  And you could buy it in stores if you wanted to do it at home.  This catchy commercial was sure to have little girls begging their moms for “soft, silky, and free” hair with “style, body, and shine”:

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Essence magazine, 1990: “Sisters love the weave,” as Janet Jackson graced the cover with her long straight weave.

March 1990 Janet Jackson

Reintroducing… the Natural Look

But this time it’s different.  This is the new natural – the improved reinvention of the “I’m black and I’m proud” movement.  It slips in right at the end of the nineties, brought on the musical notes of Erykah Badu in 1997, where she poses on the cover of her debut album “Baduizm” with her head wrapped, ushering in an eclectic brand of Afrocentrism.

erykah badu baduizm cover

click for a sample of “Afro”

This new sound soon became widely known as neo-soul, and ushered in a wave of neo-naturals – a kind of jazzed up, souled-down, poetic hippie.  Free and unashamed of being as non-mainstream as possible.  These artists and their listeners prided themselves on being different – less pop culture, deeper, more political, and more natural.  Natural was making a comeback with long denim skirts, combat boots, bold jewelry, head wraps, short cropped do’s, and a refreshing freedom from the pop culture and its suffocating ideal of beautiful.

Neo-Soul is a subgenre of soul, usually blending a hybrid of 1970’s-influenced soul music with influences from jazz, funk, electronica, and hip hop.  And occasionally African, Latin, rock-n-roll, and house music.  The music’s sound generally focuses on artist expression rather than popular appeal (  The term originated by Kedar Massenburd of Motown Records in the late 1990’s; although criticized for using “Neo-Soul” as a marketing tool, he says that he recognized that what artists like Erykah Badu and De’Angelo were offering was far different from what fans could find in the mainstream.  The argument points out that soul can’t be new.  But, in my opinion, anything old can be made new with a different twist.

Click here to read more about Neo-Soul in my post: Neo-Soul and the Natural Hair Phenomenon

Now being natural is more accepted and there is no negative stigma from the scenes of slavery attached to wearing your hair in its natural state.  So the mainstream pundits are now recognizing that black hair doesn’t have to be bone straight to be beautiful.  At the end of the ’90s, People magazine named loc-topped Grammy award-winning artist Lauryn Hill one of its 50 Most Beautiful People (1999).

Lauren Hill People Magazine

What does this mean for natural hair?  Read about Natural Coming Full Circle.

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