Style

Here’s What 100 Years Of Black Men’s Hair Trends Look Like

Hair and politics are always intertwined.

1. WatchCut Video just released the latest episode in their 100 Years of Beauty series, this time tackling black men’s trends in the U.S.

Chris Chan, visual anthropologist at WatchCut, explains the research behind the looks in a separate video, which you can watch here.

2. “One thing we wanted to be really clear about in this video is that hair and politics are always intertwined,” Chan explains in the video.

3. In the 1910s, most people wouldn’t be caught dead leaving the house without a hat on.

WatchCut Video / Via youtube.com

“Part of being in a civil society is having a hat on in public,” Chan explains in the video.

4. The ’20s look was modeled after William J. Powell Jr., a pioneer in aviation and a civil rights activist.

WatchCut Video / Via youtube.com

5. The look from the 1930s was a strong part, inspired by Donald Sheffield Ferguson, the first black medical student at Kansas University.

WatchCut Video / Via youtube.com

“He fought tooth and nail to even get in the program and to even stay. To see in the ’30s, even before what we think of as the civil rights movement, to have black folks who were working really hard to achieve advanced medical degrees,” Chan explains.

6. The look from the ’40s recognizes how many black men served in World War II.

WatchCut Video / Via youtube.com

7. Little Richard’s conk hair was the inspiration for the ’50s look.

WatchCut Video / Via youtube.com

“The conk is chemically processed hair, so we didn’t formally do that to Lester, the model, but we tried to recreate it,” Chan says. “In The Autobiography of Malcolm X, there is a chapter dedicated to him getting his first conk. He writes about how much he wanted to be white, and to have white hair, and adopt a white physiology, and yet the pain was so unbearable that it inaugurated for him a racial consciousness. About colonial mentality, about wanting to be white, about being a black body in a white world.”

8. The inspiration for the black beret look in the ’60s was Huey Newton, one of the founders of the Black Panther Party.

WatchCut Video / Via youtube.com

“The black beret is part of a global revolutionary tradition. It’s a global signifier of revolutionary call to action,” Chan explains.

9. “It’s pretty amazing what we see in just half a century. Black men are disciplined into not having any hair at all. In fact even covering it, or chemically processing it,” Chan says.

10. In the ’70s, the picked-out Afro became prominent.

WatchCut Video / Via youtube.com

“To pick out your Afro and wear it so proudly completely resists those forms of discipline that have been on black bodies,” Chan says.

11. For the ’80s style, Jean-Michel Basquiat, an artist from New York and a black nationalist, was the inspiration.

WatchCut Video / Via youtube.com

“One thing this video can do is show a kind of history of the present, and when we see The Weeknd performing, we see a little bit of Basquiat’s essence,” says Chan.

12. The flat top — specifically, Will Smith’s flat top — was the look for the ’90s.

WatchCut Video / Via youtube.com

Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was actually an interesting symbol. We have, in the case of Will Smith’s character, this person trying to mediate middle-class existence coming from the inner city.”

13. Big beautiful braids and facial hair typical of R&B celebrities were big in the 2000s.

WatchCut Video / Via youtube.com

14. In the present day, the look is a throwback reference to the flat top, but it’s really about the fade and the verticality of the hair.

WatchCut Video / Via youtube.com

“Yet we also see plenty of white boys walking around with this sort of thing. Macklemore has this hair, too. It’s interesting,” says Chan. “In a century, we have white men going to black-owned barber shops to get their hair done because it’s part of a longer Southern tradition. One thing 100 Years of Beauty has always tried to do is to show how the past informs the present.”

15. For more on the looks, you can watch the video about the research behind the video below.

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