Excerpts from Ebony, May 1946 and January 1969
| Excerpts from Ebony, |
May 1946 and January 1969
HOUSE OF BEAUTY
|Beginning of Hair Curling Process is demonstrated by operator Laverne Anthony. New Methods are a far cry from the days when Negro women used ordinary heated flatirons to press washed hair. First step in Negro beauty culture came when the late, colorful Madame C.J. Walker introduced a small iron comb she invented to straighten kinky locks. Her dekinking process eventually found favor with white women who had crinkly hair.|
Rose-Meta Salon Is Biggest Negro Beauty Parlor in World
Biggest Negro beauty parlor in the world is the Rose-Meta House of Beauty, Inc., in Harlem. Only three years old, it has zoomed overnight to the top among the 3,000 Negro beauty salons all over the nation which collect over 3 million dollars in receipts annually. . . . Co-owners rose Morgan and Olivia Clarke, who rank among the top Negro beauticians in the country, have built successful careers on the belief that no Negro hair is "bad," that all Negro hair can be attractive. . .
White people spend millions putting a wave into their hair which is naturally straight; Negroes spend millions straightening hair which is naturally wavy. Main difference between the two is the size of the wave. Natural hair wave of the average Negro is one-eighth of an inch in width. White hair wave is one inch wide normally. Basic aim of Negro hairdressers is simply to widen close narrow wave of Negro hair.
Originator of the modern method of straightening Negro hair was the fabulous Madame C.J. Walker who beginning as a St. Louis laundress with only "two dollars and a dream," built up a great business and established the Walker System of beauty culture. This is the basic method used in modern Negro hair culture. Since 1925 schools of beauty culture have been an important part of the Walker System, now number[ing] 36 from coast to coast. Big three in Negro hairdressing are the Madame Walker System, the Poro System (its main rival which claims seniority in the field), and the Apex System with headquarters in Chicago.
Biggest single innovation in Negro hair culture in recent years was introduction in 1941 by the Walker System of a new method known as "cold curling on pressed hair." Method is based on use of "vapor oil" and applies to Negro hair a treatment hitherto available only to whites. In less than five years the Walker cold curling process has revolutionized Negro hairdressing by eliminating use of heated curling irons. A war-time development, cold curling came into being in answer to critical shortage of marcelling irons created by diversion of steel to war uses. Walker System experts are currently working on two new processes which they predict will effect drastic revisions in methods of treating Negro hair.
In building a typical Negro coiffure there are four main stages. First consists of shampooing. The second is the straightening process which is done with heated irons and pressing oils. This is followed by waving by either marcelling irons or new cold curling method. Final stage is styling--arranging coiffure by use of hand, brush, and comb. Entire process takes one hour and forty minutes.
Rose Morgan has a large personal clientele who come from Chicago, Detroit, Washington and the South to get their hair done by the outstanding stylist.
Thousands of Negro men and women spend sizeable sums annually on their hair, purchase enormous quantities of hair greases and pomades, and invest heavily in special pressing and curling treatments calculated to "straighten" kinky hair. to some de-kinking is synonymous with de-Negrofying, and hence improvement. . . .
All hair is good hair, Miss Morgan believes. All her life she has been conducting a one-woman campaign against the notion widely held among Negroes that Negroid hair is inferior. Miss Morgan contends this belief is a reflection of the extent to white America has warped the values of certain Negroes who feel that the more Negroid a Negro the less attractive the person. "Hair textures vary from race to race and type to type," she says, "and it is very wrong to classify one kind as 'better' than another. It's all in the way you care for the hair. All hair is bad if it isn't well-styled and groomed."
The Natural Look--Is It Here to Stay?
"Natural" wig is new fad gaining popularity among whites as well as blacks intent on being "in" with the latest styles. Here Chicago stylist Mr. Paul fashions style suitable for face of Norma Crawford Gray, a receptionist whose own hair is tinted.
Hairstyle that began as symbol of protest is big fashion trend
The Scene was the sort where one might have expected to find a generous sprinkling of "naturals" - sullen-looking "brothers" in dashikis and "shades," their more conservative counterparts in Edwardian suits, black chicks in everything from floor-length Afro garb to abbreviated mod dresses - all crowding into a Greenwich Village club to pick up on some sounds. But one rather hip outoftowner wasn't quite ready for the sight that greeted him as he coolly surveyed others in the audience. There, at a table to the side of him, sat two attractive girls, receiving more than their share of admiring glances. They were white, by all indications, except for their dark brown, carefully styled kinky coiffures. With a closer look, he realized that they were wearing wigs. But natural wigs on white girls? "My God!" exclaimed the incredulous buff. "They're stealing our thing!"
His heated reaction was not unjustifiable, for like the music, dance and jargon of hipness born and bred in the black sub-society, kinky hair styles are now being snatched up by the fad-hungry fashion mainstream. Just as the lighter nine-tenths of the nation annually spends hours baking in the sun, trying to transform pallor into "tan," some are now seeking to emulate the noble "kink" through artificial means. Some of the largest department stores now carry natural wigs and they have become a popular item at "in" boutiques which feature them in shades ranging from black to platinum blonde. Bold stylists, always eager for something new, are experimenting with combinations of straight hair and kinky ponytails or topknots. Even in the nuclei of America's black ghettos, where women customarily have "grown their own," natural wigs have taken a place of honor beside the more common and concealing straight hair pieces.
National magazines that serve as arbiters of style are exploring the adaptation of natural hairstyles to the white market. Only recently, Women's Wear Daily, a bible of the trade, regarded this trend and declared: "A feeling of inferiority has been replaced by pride." Quoting a black "girl on the street," the publication noted: "Suddenly it has become fashionable to be black," adding, "but black girls are perceptive enough to understand that fashion exploits everything . . . now it's the Afro hairdo. 'Now everybody wants to be a soul sister.'" Thus white acceptance leading to imitation has added an ironic chapter to the curious history of the natural hairstyle, particularly among women. What began as a symbol of protest now has become an item of fashion, though only in the populous metropolitan centers. Indeed, admiration of the natural by whites is hardly more remarkable than its adoption by increasing numbers of middle-class black women who frequently scorned and derided early pioneers in this area. In most instances, it is an extension of the racial pride that motivated the intrepid few of the early periods but for others, it is primarily a matter of achieving a certain cosmetic effect.
As recently as three years ago, it was almost possible to determine the degree of a woman's militance by the state of her hair. Only the brave dared to "do the thing," and naturals were encountered almost exclusively on picket lines, at civil rights meetings and protest demonstrations. Frequently the hair style was complemented by colorful outfits in an African vein, dangling jewelry and other exotic accouterments. Correspondingly, a natural look was adopted by black men, meaning that they allowed their hair to grow out long and kinky, abandoning the almost bald look that had been designed to hide the natural kinkiness and the slick "patent leather 'do" wrought by the chemical process To both male and female, the "natural" represented a complete breaking away from oppressive white standards of beauty that were impossible to attain. For those of both sexes, it was an assertion of self through blackness.
Yet all along, the "change" has been a more drastic step for a black woman than for a black man. In great part, this has been due to the greater emphasis placed on women as decorative objects in their traditional sexual role. To "look good" has always been of utmost importance to the female and black woman who decided to wear a "natural," altering her appearance extraordinarily, risked jeopardizing her position as all object of appeal.
Black and Proud, Carolyn Webb, 1968 homecoming queen of the University of California at Los Angeles, chose "natural" style because she thinks "it's more real." She poses with members of her court at predominantly white school, Sue Ann Braithwait and Gae McElhany who sought title.
In the best-selling book Black Rage, psychiatrists William H. Crier and Price M. Cobbs delve into this aspect of the black woman's psychological make-up, exploring the effect the hair-straightening process has on her from childhood on--the insistence by family and peers that it is necessary if she is to be considered merely acceptable, the early realization that "her crowning glory is in fact a crown of shame." They explain: "It is against this endless circle of shame, humiliation and the implied unacceptability of one's own person that a small but significant number of black women have turned to the 'natural hairdo'; no hot irons, no pressing combs, no oils, but a soft, black, gentle cloche of cropped velvet. The effect is so engaging and feminine and, in light of the above, so psychologically redemptive, that we can only wonder why it has taken them so long, and why even yet there are so few. "
So it is that a number of women have chosen the style in a spirit of emancipation. It remains most popular among the young, but for those others beyond school age, the many "natural" women who must confront White and black associates in the working world, motives are as varied as their professions. Bernice Kerr, an elementary school teacher in Chicago, first made the switch this past summer when she was conducting classes over closed circuit television as part of an experimental program aimed at ghetto schools. Being somewhat slight in stature, she considered that a "natural" hairstyle might add to her height and improve her appearance on the TV screen. She followed through, was impressed with the results and, subsequently, was able to influence the little girls in her classes. "If children like you, they like what you do," says Bernice, "and, in this way, I was able to encourage them to look neater. So many of the little girls would come to school without having their hair straightened, because their families couldn't afford it or their mothers hadn't taken the time. Since the children had a certain identification with me, I was able to convince them that they would look better if they wore their hair 'natural' in a close, neat style that they could care for themselves. By improving their appearance this way, they began to develop a pride in themselves they'd not had before."
"Natural" teachers, like Dorothy C. Brown of Doolittle elementary school in Chicago, have found style enables them to impart sense of black pride to youngsters.
While the "natural" has found its way into the classroom and cocktail party, as well as the strongholds of militance, an adverse reaction has been noticeable among those who fear it most--the Negro hairdressers. Many of them readily predict its quick demise, perhaps through wishful thinking. They see it as a passing fad that just might diminish their volume of business while it runs its course. "People do all this talking about black power and going 'natural,' but they don't stop to think that it might all backfire," contends one irate midwestern stylist. "Money is so much of where it is all at and they haven't considered that the big 'B's' have been the backbone of Negro business in this country--the beauty shop, barber shop, bar and barbecue joint. If they go all the way with this thing, they'll just be putting people out of work."
On the other hand, there are some in the beauty business who have accepted the advent of the "natural" as simply another challenge. They have developed new techniques and extended their services to include care for "naturals." One is Paul Slaughtaire of Chicago, a pioneer as male high fashion stylist for black women and proprietor of Mr. Paul's Beauty Salon and Boutique in the Windy City's Hyde Park area. His clientele is composed primarily of middle-class Negro women and he estimates that, since a year ago, one-fourth of his customers have gone "natural," usually because they liked the Afro look as a hairstyle.
"I don't try to dissuade a woman when she comes to me and asks for a natural cut," says Paul. "I merely discuss it with her to make certain whether or not she believes it is the thing for her. Most of them have made up their minds when they decide to do it, but others are uncertain." He recalls one woman who went natural when her permanent was beginning to grow out. Within two weeks she returned for another permanent because, "it takes me at least 45 minutes to get my head together in the morning." She went back to the straightened hair, but came back again in the next two-week period, asking him, "Can you kink it up a little again?" The renewed permanent had brought about an adverse reaction at the school where she taught.
As a response to the continuing challenge of women who can't make up their minds, Mr. Paul has supplied a variety of answers. He has mastered the technique of "re-kinking" permanently straightened hair, "insofar as it is possible." He has devised a method of rolling ultrastraightened hair to facilitate styling, and for those who still can not make a definite decision, he carries a line of "natural" wigs. "Women who came to the salon every week to have their hair styled still do so, after they've gone 'natural,' because it's not simply a matter of looking nice," he asserts. "Women like to be pampered, to have someone do something for them instead of having to do for others all the time."
And in tackling the question of whether or not the "natural" look is here to stay, he is equally open. "I believe there are women who will stick with the style in the future because it means something to them," says the stylist. "But there are a limited number of things you can do with the 'natural,' and women like change. Possibly a number of them will tire of the sameness of their styles and will try something else."
Many might disagree with him.