02 October 2006

The Fall and Rise of the House of Coiffure

Has it really been nearly a month since my last post?! Many topics have been circulating through my mind. And here is one that is unavoidable since my hair is growing: coiffure. Specifically in its relationship to Black women. This isn't an original thought. I read it somewhere before; I forget where. Coiffure--or, rather, its downfall since the end of the 1950s--has been the downfall of Black women's hair.

In my mind, the word "coiffure" connotes hair with volume and, perhaps, density. Braids, knots, buns, twists, etc. Hair being bound up or fastened in some manner. This is why I say I say coiffure had its end in the 1950s; for, in the 1960s, we see the trend toward unfastened, free-floating hair. For Black women, this means one thing: Yikes! Ergo, the hair straightening chemicals of dubious long-term effects.

Ah, but in the glory days of coiffure...it was all so simple. Hair was about volume--and volume Black women's hair had in abundance. Have you ever noticed that in 18th-century portraiture French aristocrats look like they have White 'fros? Wealthy women called in the coiffeur de jour for a toilette that could take hours. In the 19th century, women wore their hair in puffs, frizzes, braids, knots, curls, fringes, and all other manner of somewhat morbid Victorian assemblage. (I'm thinking mid- to late-19th century.) Again, no problem for Black women.

In the early 20th century, Gibson girl hair was big! Waves, kinks and wild curls aren't a problem when you wear your hair in a pompadour. Everyone had serious frizz back then. And it was so picturesque! On into the 1920s and 1930s, you could do a shiny finger wave if you pressed your hair. And who cares when everyone had a head full of all manner of grease and brilliantine?? Ok, and on into the 1940s and 1950s. And then, in the 1960s, it all started to go flat, so to speak.

Hair used to take up space around the head--sometimes a lot, sometimes a little less. It used to have sculptural, 3-D quality. Hair could make shape. Alack! not anymore. I remember when I was a girl my mother used to braid my hair. Those are the days I want to get back to. To be honest, I feel uneasy when my hair isn't fastened or bound in some way. I want quasi-19th century bohemian braids. Amel Larrieux does that well. Onward! This, I think, is the future of Black women's hair.

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