The Black History Of Curly Hair In America


In American history, the story of black hair stands as a powerful testament to resilience, innovation, and cultural identity. From the harrowing days of the transatlantic slave trade to the vibrant present-day celebration of diverse textures and styles, the journey of black hair in America is one of struggle, strength, and triumph.

Let's embark on a journey through time, exploring how hair became more than just strands on one's head but a symbol of identity, resilience and beauty.

Hair Has Meaning


How do we know this? Because it’s currently a 16-billion-dollar industry and expected to reach close to 20 billion by 2029 (money talks!). But, if we weren’t looking at the pure numbers, history tells the story of hair's importance as a beauty standard. It is multifaceted, encompassing cultural, social, and personal dimensions. While beauty standards may vary widely across different societies and time periods, hair consistently holds a prominent place in discussions of attractiveness, self-presentation and societal ranking.

This was true for the first African slaves brought over to America around 1619. Slaves that were once leaders and teachers of their community AND they had the hairstyle to prove it. In places like West and Central Africa, hairstyles were used to distinguish tribes, rank within tribes, marital status, wealth, and even specialty professions such as doctors.

There was a lot a person could learn from someone just by looking at their hair. And because of this, hair was cared for and protected. In some cultural settings and tribes, the significance of hair was so highly revered that there were only one to two people in the tribe designated to care and dress the hair of other tribe members. This person was well cared for and respected because of the authority they held in their role and the implications the hairdressing outcome had on the tribe members.

Stripped Of Glory


Continuing into the 1700-1800s the erasure of cultural identity was a deliberate and devastating aspect of the enslavement of Africans in America. One of the first steps in this process was often the forced alteration of their physical appearance, including their hair. Enslaved individuals were typically required to adopt European grooming standards, which often meant cutting off their natural hair or forcing them to wear head coverings like bonnets or hats to conceal their hair.

This act not only robbed them of a fundamental aspect of their identity but also served to reinforce the power dynamics of enslavement, marking them as inferior and subject to the dictates of their captors. By erasing these markers of identity and connection to cultural heritage, there was a breakdown in social bonds.

Making The Most Out Of The Least


“Making do” looks very different when you have nothing to start with. Making do requires a high level of resourcefulness and resilience. Despite enduring unfathomable hardships, enslaved Africans found ways to maintain a sense of dignity, even in something as seemingly trivial (but we all know better) as hair care.

The lack of access to familiar hair care tools and products forced them to innovate with whatever they could find, so things such as pig fat/drippings, axle oil, and even repurposed farm tools were used for grooming their curls!

These actions spoke to the importance of self-care and identity preservation, even in the most oppressive circumstances. Enslaved Africans found ways to affirm their humanity and maintain a connection to their cultural practices.

Pathway To Curl Dignity


When it came to defining beauty, tight curly, coarse hair was not invited into the conversation! As a result many Black Americans resorted to high-heat straightening combs, or chemical relaxers, just to be considered acceptable- not quite beautiful.

The Civil Rights era marked a pivotal turning point. Black Americans began to reject oppressive beauty standards and reclaim their natural hair textures as a symbol of pride and identity. Influential figures like Angela Davis, Nina Simone, and Cicely Tyson played critical roles in this movement by proudly wearing their natural hair in styles like braids, Bantu knots, and afro puffs, which celebrated and honored their ancestral roots.

This new era kindled a broader movement towards embracing natural hair within the Black community, and beyond! We continue to eat the fruits of this movement today. It inspired a new generation to reject conformity and embrace their authentic selves, challenging societal norms and reshaping perceptions of beauty. Today, the natural hair movement continues to thrive, promoting self-love, acceptance, and expanding to other cultures to celebrate diverse beauty in all its forms.


It even influences the work we do today at TréLuxe, where we encourage everyone to embrace the beauty of their own curls, coils or waves. If you have not had a chance to read our last blog post yet, please take a moment to soak in the wisdom of those in our TréLuxe community on how to love your own tresses. 

-Cortney Sigilai ( TreLuxe Co-Founder)



Did you learn something new today about the Black history of curly hair?

Did this journey through time make you look at your own curl identity in a different way?

We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Feb 23, 2024

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