When we think back to the events that shaped the world we live in today, we almost always think of famous historical figures and life-changing events—but rarely do we consider hair. However, the hairstyles of decades past have a huge impact on the way we style and view hair today.
As Black History Month comes to a close, we’re taking a moment to reflect on some of the most iconic textured hairstyles that have made history. From Dorothy Dandridge’s elegant pin curls to Michael Jackson’s larger-than-life afro, these iconic hairstyles still influence the way we style and view hair to this day.
To get a better understanding of how these styles came to be, why they’re so iconic, and how they’ve impacted the hair industry at large, we sat down with historian Ayana Byrd, the author of “Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America.”
Byrd’s in-depth knowledge of black hair history opened our eyes to the ways black people and textured hairstyles have shaped the hair industry and will continue to do so for years to come. Continue reading to find out how these iconic hairstyles changed the way we view hair today.
1940s: Dorothy Dandridge Pin CurlsAfter years of styling hair with harsh chemicals and unsafe heat styling techniques, healthy hair was the new focus by 1910. In the 1910s and 1920s, Madame C.J. Walker sold the bulk of her hair products to women looking to restore their damaged, broken hair. While the products worked wonders at restoring heads of hair no matter the texture, textured hair still had a reputation for being unhealthy, difficult to manage, and stiff. That all changed when actress Dorothy Dandridge rose to fame in the 1940s.
“Her hair was so healthy-looking—and I don’t mean that as a stand-in for straight,” Byrd says. “It didn’t look damaged, it didn’t look broken off, it did not look like she had a really bad hot comb treatment. It kind of dismantled the idea that black women could not have full, healthy-looking hair—which was obviously not true, but there were so few black women in the public eye.”
Dandridge's rise to fame was historic, but her pin curls also began to change how hairstyles worn by black women were perceived. This style marked one of the first times in modern history that a famous black woman’s hair was seen as aspirational.
How To Style Dorothy Dandridge’s Pin Curls
This breathtaking updo requires a bit of skill and a lot of patience, but we promise the result is way worth it. To begin, prime the hair with a heat protectant like Mizani’s Therma Strength Heat Protecting Serum. Starting at the back of your head, wrap small sections of hair around a 1-inch curling iron until the section is just heated through. Once a curl has formed, maintain the curls shape and use a styling clip to secure the coil to your head—we call that a pin curl.
Once you’ve curled your entire head, allow your hair to cool completely before removing the pins and letting your curls hang loose. Gently rake your fingers through your hair to loosen your curls before you begin to craft your updo.
Part your hair down the middle to the crown of your head, and create two soft swoops on either side of the part. Secure the S-shaped swoops on either side of your part with several bobby pins. Then, pin the rest of your curls to the back of your head to create an effortless updo. Set your look in place with a firm hold hair spray like Mizani's HRM Humidity Resistant Mist.
1950s: Motown WigBy the time the 1950s rolled around, wigs were nothing new. They’d been around for centuries and had been worn by men and women of all hair colors and textures. Unfortunately, wigs were not often accessible to many people without disposable income.
After World War II, however, more women had access to more disposable income as many were forced to leave their homes and join the workforce. This extra income allowed women to invest more time and money into things like their hair and when they began to look for inspiration, they looked to the women of Motown. Motown, a record label founded by Barry Gordy in Detroit, featured artists like Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, and Stevie Wonder, and helped popularize soul music.
“For the first time you could see black celebrities wearing wigs everywhere you turned—in news programs, on the covers of magazines, on television,” Byrd explains “That’s what the Supremes and a lot of the Detroit singers did. They pushed wigs into the mainstream consciousness in a way they’d never been before.”
Seeing celebrities wear wigs in such a public manner began to help destigmatize wig-wearing for everyday women. These days, wigs are an integral part of daily styling routines for many women.
How To Style A Motown Wig
This look is the easiest of them all to recreate! Simply head to your local beauty supply store and pick up a Motown-inspired wig that you love. If you’re a wig novice, we recommend starting out with a classic curled bob. The short style is easy to install and even easier to style. If you need some tips on how to properly instal a wig, check out our guide to making a wig look natural.
1960s: Jackson 5 AfroThe afro was popular way before The Jackson 5 rose to fame, but, it is one of the first styles to begin as a political statement. The black power and “black is beautiful” movements that gained popularity in the late 1950s and early 1960s encouraged black people to embrace their natural texture and wear a hairstyle that showcased their textured strands.
Before afros were trendy, they were thought of as political statements. The hairstyle was seen as a marker of a person’s particular ideology. By the time the Jackson 5 busted out their perfectly coiffed afros on TVs across the nation, however, the style was no longer seen as a political statement.
“The Jackson 5 were some of the biggest celebrities who helped turn the afro from a political statement to a pop culture trend,” Byrd explains. “By the time Michael Jackson was wearing an afro, no one was looking at his hair as an indicator of his politics. It was cool, it was popular....He was one of the biggest celebrities in the world.”
While some people saw the de-politicalization of the afro as a hit to the black-centric movements, others loved to see such an unapologetically black style become popular in the mainstream media.
How To Style A Jackson 5 Afro
If you have curl types five through eight in your mane, this look is super simple to recreate at home on either freshly washed hair or day two hair. Use a hair pick at your roots to fluff your hair and create volume all over. Once you’ve shaped your afro into your desired style, set your look with Mizani’s Lived-In Texture Spray.
1970s: Donna Summer Disco HairDonna Summer was one of the most well-known style chameleons of her time. Whether she was making an appearance at an award show, performing on stage, or on the cover of a magazine, she loved to switch up her look. While Summer frequently wore everything from straight hair to cornrows, voluminous textured hair was her most iconic look by far.
“Donna Summer’s hair perfectly captured the disco era,” Byrd explains. “The music was so free and so fun, and it was breaking the mold of what music should be—and she looked like that. She had so much hair all over the place and it just looked so beautiful.”
Summer’s teased curls and feathered bangs bore a striking resemblance to another celebrity's popular 1970s hairstyle: Farrah Fawcett. This hair moment marked one of the first times people outside of the black community looked to black women’s hairstyles for inspiration, sparking a debate about cultural appropriation that remains just as relevant today.
How To Style Donna Summer’s Disco Hair
If you have curl types three through five in your mane, you can recreate this look with a few hair tools and products. Gather up a fine tooth comb for teasing, Mizani’s Lived-In Texture Spray to help create a soft matte finish that lasts, and a medium hold hair spray to set your look in place.
Starting at the back of your head, tease 2-inch sections of hair starting at the root and working your way down to the ends gently. This will create al all-over voluminous style that still puts your curls on display. Once you’ve teased your entire head, sweep one side of your hair up and use several bobby pins to pin the hair in place.
If you don’t have hair with curl types three through five but you want to recreate this look, not all hope is lost. Just use a 1-inch curling iron to create curls all over your head. Once you’ve curled your entire head, following the teasing instructions above for a full final look.
1980s: Prince's Jheri CurlsAs the afro continued to gain popularity from the 1950s through the 1970s, the beauty industry took a major hit. With so many people embracing their natural texture, they were no longer spending as much money on hair products and treatments to achieve a particular style. Byrd attributes the rise of Jheri curls to major companies trying to recoup some of the money the beauty industry lost as a result of the afro's popularity. The new style required lots of product and maintenance to keep it up.
While Prince wasn’t the first or the last celebrity to wear this particular hairstyle, he was absolutely one of the most popular.
“Prince didn’t popularize the Jheri curl—he looked like a lot of men by 1984,” Byrd explains. “But that was the hair he became Prince in. He became a star with that hair, and we saw it everywhere. On the album cover, in “Purple Rain” the movie, on tour and television.”
If you didn’t have Jheri curls by the time “Purple Rain” hit theaters, you definitely made an appointment at your hair salon as soon as you left the theater.
How To Style Prince’s Jheri Curls
Jheri curls are a huge commitment that requires a trip to the hair salon and an extensive maintenance routine, but we’ve got you covered if you want to rock the look for just one day. To recreate Prince’s signature glistening curls, you’re going to need Mizani’s Styling Foam Wrap and medium-size cold wave rods.
Beginning at the back of your head, apply a small amount of the Styling Foam Wrap to a damp 2-inch section of hair and wrap it around the cold wave rod before securing the rod in place. Be sure to install the rods vertically, so the resulting curls fall downward. Continue applying the Styling Foam Wrap and wrapping the damp sections around the cold wave rods until you’ve completed your entire head. Once your entire mane is in cold wave rods, allow your hair to dry completely. Feel free to use a hooded dryer to speed the process along.
Once your hair is completely dry, remove the cold wave rods and shake your curls out. Use a hair pick to lift your hair from the root to create volume all over.
1990s: “Poetic Justice” Box BraidsFor decades black people fought tooth and nail for equal representation in film and while that struggle still resonates today, the 1990s marked a significant turning point as black directors began to emerge and tell black stories in a way that hadn’t been done before. For the first time, hairstyles that real black women wore regularly appeared on the big screen. In 1993, John Singleton’s second movie “Poetic Justice”—starring rapper Tupac and Janet Jackson—hit theaters, putting Jackson’s iconic braided hairstyle on the big screen.
“In the early and mid-‘90s was the first time we really started to see black directors like Spike Lee and John Singleton making movies about black life with black people who looked like the black people in your family and that was huge,” Byrd says. “For years black people had been looking for authentic representation in film, and they finally had that. And it was Janet Jackson, who was huge and it was the first time we saw a style like that on the big screen.”
Jackson’s iconic hairstyle is still one of the most recreated hairstyles to this day, proving that real style is eternal.
How To Style Janet Jackson’s “Poetic Justice” Braids
For this look, we recommend making an appointment with a braiding professional. While box braids can look simple, creating perfect parts and adding additional hair requires the skilled hands of a professional. After spending six-plus hours in the braiding chair, chances are good you’re going to want to keep your braids in for a few weeks. Protective styles like box braids are a great way to give your mane a break from daily styling, but only if you know how to care for them.
If you’re keeping your box braids in for longer than a week, you’ll need to wash your hair while they’re still installed. Shampoo your hair like you usually would, making sure to be gentle so as not to disturb your style too much. Follow your shampoo with a hydrating conditioner to ensure your hair looks and feels moisturized—we recommend Mizani’s Moisture Fusion Moisture Rich Shampoo and Mask.
Once you’ve washed and conditioned your hair, you’ll need to make sure it is completely dry before styling. Because these Janet Jackson-inspired braids require you to add extra hair to your style, you may want to use a blow dryer or hooded dryer to make sure your mane is 100 percent dry. If you leave your hair damp (particularly near the scalp) you run the risk of developing dandruff, fungus, or even mildew.
If you don’t have time to wash and condition your hair regularly thoroughly, invest in a good astringent—we recommend witch hazel. It can help remove dirt and buildup, keeping your scalp healthy between washes. Apply the astringent with cotton swabs to ensure you clean every nook and cranny of your scalp is left feeling clean.
These history-making hairstyles only scratch the surface of the impact textured hair has had on the beauty industry. As we continue to work towards creating texture equality throughout society, the importance of these styles will only amplify.
Interested in trying out one of these iconic looks for yourself? Use our salon locator to book an appointment at a salon near you.
You may also like: New York City Is Making It Illegal To Discriminate Based On Hair
You may also like: How To Take Care of Natural Hair: The Complete Guide