Over the years, Black women’s hair has become an integral reflection of Black history. It tells the story of social, political, and cultural experiences dominating the times, and its legacy in continuing to influence the way we view and style hair today. From Josephine Baker’s iconic Eton crop to Janet Jackson’s box braids à la Poetic Justice to Michelle Obama’s Inauguration Day silk press, we’re highlighting nine trendsetting hair looks of legendary Black women whose influential hairstyles made waves in popular culture, broke down cultural barriers, and moved the needle in the beauty industry.
1. Josephine Baker Eton Crop
In the 1920s, entertainer Josephine Baker led the way for a style called the Eton crop. This short, shiny, and sleeked style with pasted curls to the cheeks and forehead became the dominant cut of flapper hairstyles.
2. Pam Grier Traditional Afro
Popularized by actress Pam Grier in her headlining role for the movie Foxy Brown, this picked out, perfectly rounded afro quickly became a symbol of the '70s. Embracing natural texture and style, this traditional afro look was more voluminous than curly or wavy hair with a tighter curl pattern that makes the hair grow outward, rather than down.
3. Diana Ross Afro Curls
In the 1970s, long straight hair was the styling norm, but singer Diana Ross refused to conform to this dominating beauty standard by being a trailblazer who frequently embraced her natural hair texture, popularizing this voluminous Afro curl look.
4. Salt-N-Pepa Asymmetrical Haircut
During the '80s, hip hop group Salt-N-Pepa set the trend with their trademark asymmetrical haircuts. These cropped cuts incorporated a short or shaved cut on one side, and longer tapered hair on the other.
5. Whitney Houston Perm Curls
The bigger the hair, the better was the mantra of the 1980s. Curly girls like singer Whitney Houston wore their natural texture, inspiring those with straight hair to visit the salon for perms that would give them voluminous curls.
6. Janet Jackson Box Braids
The Box braid look quickly became a mainstream trend in the 1990s thanks to triple threat Janet Jackson and her role in the film Poetic Justice. Jackson typically wore the braids tucked under a hat, but also styled them in high ponytails, a turban, and other versatile styles.
7. Halle Berry Pixie Haircut
In 2002, Halle Berry became the first black woman to win an Academy Award for Best Actress, where she wore her signature pixie haircut. Berry credited this Oscars look as a gamechanger for her career, quickly making it into an iconic style of the 2000s.
8. Alicia Keys Fulani Braids
Singer-songwriter Alicia Keys began displaying her Fulani braids in the early 2000s, popularizing the style in her debut of the song “Fallin". Keys modernized the style with beads and various other adaptions to the African style which traditionally represented social status, wealth, religion or marital status.
9. Michelle Obama Silk Press Curls
At the 2021 inauguration of Joe Biden, First Lady Michelle Obama stunned millions of viewers with her flawless silk pressed bouncy curls. The look, created by her longtime stylist Yene Damtew, quickly became a hot topic and even had the word “LAID” trending on Twitter as an ode to her impeccable style.