NEW YORK—The smell of perming cream, the threading and gluing of weaves, loud conversations between stylists, questions in heavy accents, loud comments, and laughter all rise above the sound of hair dryers and running water—a scene all too familiar in African-American culture.
The coarser the hair, the longer the salon visit. The first fifteen minutes consists of the washing and deep conditioning. The next thirty minutes is about drying, straightening, and wrapping.
Whether it’s natural or relaxed, fake or real, hair comes in a variety of lengths and colors. Contributing to the eclectic mix is African-American hair. Many black people have hair that is thick with tighter and smaller curls, giving rise to many unique hairstyles.
From the 1970’s afro, to the 1980’s fade and jheri curls, to the 1990’s box-braids and cornrows, African-American hairstyles have taken their own route through history. During the late 90’s was where perms, weaves, and extensions really gained fame.
Since the year 2000, a lot of the older hairstyles have come back. Within the last four to five years, weaves, extensions, and short haircuts like bobs and pixie cuts have gotten popular. In the 1960’s, it was a luxury to have either a wig or weave. Now, everyone seems to have them. The biggest stereotype of hair is that ‘straight hair is good hair,’ and that thick and coarse hair, which most African-American women have, is considered to be ‘bad hair.’
In the new millennium, black hair has developed into a $9 billion industry, according to Chris Rock’s 2009 documentary “Good Hair.” The focus of the film is the extreme lengths black women are willing to go through to look a certain way. In a culture that believes the straighter and longer the hair means the prettier the women, Rock delves into how a black woman’s hair is her identity to the world.
Jaimita Haskell, a freelance producer, sticks with her mother’s advice. “My mother always told me, ‘don’t let anyone touch your hair or ask you if it’s real or not, it is an insult.’”
Today, hair basically defines a woman. It’s their first impression for jobs, friendships, and for dates. It shows how women take care of themselves.
“Sometimes, when girls are a bit too young, they start to feel that hair makes them a different person, and defines who they are,” Haskell says. “I like all different types of hair because, one day I could look like Beyonce, and the next [day], Diana Ross.”
In this economy, it means a lot to be able to style one’s own hair instead of paying for it. High school student Keeyona Miller, who does her own hair, explained the pros and cons of hair extensions and weaves.
“It gives you a feeling of being a different person, makes people feel pretty and more confident,” Miller said. “We can make our own styles.”
Some of the disadvantages she spoke of were that “thick hair is messy and takes a huge amount of maintenance, and the amount of time it consumes, and the price.”
The pricing of hair is very different from any other product. If a weave or wig is made from human hair, it tends to be way more expensive than synthetic hair. Human hair weaves would normally cost $300 to $1,000. For synthetic, it would cost around $150 to $350.
Diane Isaac, a high school history teacher believes in natural hairstyles. “I’m not a fan of weaves and extensions. When I was a teen, people were outcast because it was believed that good hair was straight hair,” said Isaac.
As a teen, Isaac always wore her hair in a natural style without any products, her way of rebelling against the “colonial view” of beauty. Isaac then wore dreadlocks for 12 years before cutting it all off.
“I wanted a change in my life and changing my hair was the easiest way to change.”
As a mother, Isaac keeps an eye on the hairstyles of her son’s girlfriends. “I don’t like when my son’s girlfriends wear wigs or extensions, but the times are changing and you have to accept the times.”