When it comes to beauty, hair is one of the most, if not the most important element for black women.
In fact, there is an industry dedicated solely to Black haircare, which is projected to be worth more than $761 million in 2017, according to market research firm Mintel. However, a recent trend has many black women opting to cover their hair.
With products ranging from hair extensions, wigs, natural hair products, various straighteners and more, women of African descent can create whatever look they desire. But, some women are choosing to wear African head wraps noting cultural identity and convenience.
“I love that it’s easy and go. I love that I feel beautiful covered,” said Uber driver Crystal Hailstorks, who has a small collection of head wraps. “It’s sexy and liberating, also good for bad hair days.”
Head wraps are large pieces of fabric, usually in bright colors and Afrocentric prints, worn over the head and tied above the forehead or the side. In ancient Nubian and Egyptian art, there is evidence of head covers worn by royalty. People in sub-Saharan Africa have worn head wraps since the 18th century. Numerous artworks from the time show slaves wearing head wraps while working cotton and sugarcane fields on plantations in the Caribbean, according to Regis University and Metropolitan State University history professor, Beverly Chico.
Chico’s research confirms that head wraps came to America through slavery from Africa. In her book, “Hats and Headwear around the world: A Cultural Encyclopedia,” she wrote that some scholars believed that head wraps were used during the transatlantic transport of slaves as a way to integrate tribes or reduce head lice.
Once in America, enslaved African women did not have the luxury of spending hours styling their hair, and some had to abide by dress code regulations.
During the Louisiana Purchase, AfroCreole slaves were forced to keep their heads covered by a law instilled by Gov. Esteban Rodriguez Miró, which stated women of color, slave or free, should cover their heads with a knotted headdress, referred to as tignons, to refrain from “excessive attention to dress.”
Known as the “tignon law,” the regulation backfired when the women designed decorative wraps shaped in artful designs outdoing their white counterparts and making hair wrapping a fashion statement, according to a Louisiana State University study published by Ina J. Fandrich.
In 2015, Dominican-American artist Firelei Báez painted a collection of pieces featuring elaborate headdresses. Báez said she was inspired by the Creole women’s triumph against the law.
“It’s sexy and liberating, also good for bad hair days.”
Many of the women interviewed for this story were not aware of the history or how it became a fashion statement, but all liked having the option.
In addition to convenience, some women wear the wraps as a form of cultural identity.
Former Miss Nigeria Florida, Evelyn Onyejuruwa, said she was never told about the history, but she starting wearing the head wraps, known in Nigeria as “geles,” early as a toddler.
For formal or special occasions, Nigerians traditionally wear custom-made clothes. The women use the leftover fabric from the outfit to make geles, Onyejuruwa said. Geles are a symbol of status and nobility. She also said authentic geles are made from handmade West African fabric called “ankara.”
“There are two types of geles; one made with heavier fabric for special occasions and one made of regular ankara for everyday wear, but it also depends where,” she said.
Onyejuruwa, who considers herself an African cultural ambassador, has her own line of head wraps called Ankara Delights.
Sales for Ankara Delights peak during Black History Month and the summer – when many natural hair events and music festivals take place, Onyejuruwa said.
“Head wraps are more wearable than an outfit. It’s an easier way to make someone connect to their roots,” she said. “It’s cool as a fashion trend as long as it is credited back to where it’s from.”