Feb 21st, 2020, 01:10 PM

Evolution of Black Beauty and Fashion

By Shi-ann James
Black Fashionistas, Image Credit: Unsplash/Clarke Sanders
Looking back at the subtle #BlackGirlMagic flexes from the 1700s to now.

It’s that time of year again! The joys of entering the new year have passed and with February comes a fresh wave of excitement. February is in full swing, and while it’s filled with special days like the Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day, it comes with the extra razzle-dazzle of being nationally recognized, in the U.S., as Black History Month.

During the course of the month, sardonic memes, fast facts, and retrospective think pieces have flooded the internet to honor those of the African diaspora and their achievements. From peanut butter to laser eye surgery, discoveries and innovations by black people have their place in most, if not all, aspects that keep the world going and the fashion and beauty industry is no exception.


Starting in the 1700s in the southern colony of Louisiana in the U.S., the Tignon law was put into place by Spanish governor, Esteban Rodríguez Miró. Under that law, Creole, or mulatto, free women were forced to cover their kinky and coily hair in plain turban-like wraps. Essentially, the law was created to remind free Creole women of their inferior social status, but these women found a loophole. While obeying the law, black women began to decorate their tignon with jewels, lace, ribbon, along with other expensive materials, which made their café au lait skin and curly hair seem incredibly alluring. The women’s rebellion also represented the wealth and status they were able to acquire as free individuals. The practice has made its way through the centuries and has recently resurged as a major trend among black women.

Wrapped Hair, Image Credit: Shutterstock/82175254


In the late 20th century, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and the first Black-American self-made millionaire, Madam C.J. Walker, changed the face of the budding black hair industry. While the common misconception is that Walker invented the perm for black hair, the entrepreneur did create her own successful haircare line and contributed to the innovation and popularization of the hot comb in America.

Straightening Comb, Image Credit: Shutterstock/3013488


Known to be worn by both African-American and Mexican-American youths, the Zoot suits were a fun, but problematic trend that filled jazz clubs across America. The draped suits were inspired by loose clothing worn by dancers during the Harlem Renaissance and was popularized by jazz performers, like Cab Calloway.


The 60s and 70s are reminiscent of peace signs, Woodstock, and flower power, but for Black-Americans, it was a new surge of self-empowerment. With the Civil Rights Movement and the development of the Black Panther Party (BPP), black people began to recognize a new sense of their own power and expressed it accordingly. One of the main symbols of the BPP is the black beret and the picked-out afro, which became popular with all black people, regardless if they were members of the organization or not.



I live in France (bonjour) and so I’m getting into the revolutionary spirit for tomorrow, a day of mass general strikes against a right-wing government who are cheerfully bulldozing through our pension, social welfare system and civil rights #vivelarevolution ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Anyway, to celebrate here’s Angela Davis- activist, writer and fab af feminist. Although a controversial figure to some, Angela has always inspired me for her sheer passion for justice and radical progressive politics. For her, radicalism means “grasping things by the root,” and Angela is still grasping those roots, mainly of the vegetable kind #veganjokes 🥕🥔 ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Angela came out as a lesbian in 1997. She has spent her life standing up for equality: more recently writing against classism and the prison system, speaking at Occupy in 2011, chairing the 2017 Women’s March and supporting Black Lives Matter amongst a million other fights. They say #pickyourbattles, but they also say #fightthegoodfight ✊🏾 ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀ #lgbt #lgbthistory #lgbtq #lgbtqhistory #lesbian #lesbianhistory #feminist #queer #queerhistory #activist #blacklivesmatter #feminism #angeladavis

A post shared by @ finding_sappho on


Another major style shift came with the new decades, especially in the ‘80s featuring trends like leather jackets and large shoulder pads. For the black community, the voluminous afro loosened into a soulful glow due to a new chemical process called the Jheri Curl.

When it comes to the ‘90s, comfortable streetwear like Adidas tracksuits and sneakers became incredibly popular after Run-D.M.C’s campaign with the sportswear brand.


Though the new decade has begun, fashion trends within the black community have managed to make their way full circle. Stylish, but comfortable streetwear is perhaps the most popular clothing trend. There has also been a large resurgence of, what could be called, a natural hair movement. Black women have turned away from chemical processes, weaves, and wigs, instead choosing to learn how to manage and properly care for their ‘fros.

Natural Hair in a Bun, Image Credit: Unsplash/Suad Kamardeen
Business Women Rocking Their Natural Hair, Image Credit: Unsplash/Christina Wocintechchat


Through the years, trends in black fashion and beauty have evolved, recycled, and the next decade won’t be very different. With recent pushes for sustainability, perhaps we’ll see more thrifted and top quality sustainable outfits in the public. But with Beyoncé’s recent Ivy Park collaboration with Adidas, the future of athleisure seems to be on steady, if not rising, ground.

1 / 1